Matildas waltz to new coach's tune

Australia coach Alen Stajcic encouraging a player during training. The shock win over Brazil put them into the quarter-finals of the Women's World Cup for the third time running.
Australia coach Alen Stajcic encouraging a player during training. The shock win over Brazil put them into the quarter-finals of the Women's World Cup for the third time running.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

EDMONTON (Canada) - Just over a year after taking over as coach of the Australian women's football team, Alen Stajcic has transformed the Matildas into a team of world beaters with high hopes at the Women's World Cup.

The former Sydney FC Women's League coach stepped in after his predecessor Hesterine de Reus was sacked in April 2014 following a player revolt.

The 41-year-old managed to guide Australia to the Asian Cup final just a month later, where they lost 0-1 to Japan in Vietnam.

Now better prepared, his young team face that same Japanese side in the last eight in Edmonton tomorrow, looking to keep their epic journey alive.

The Matildas became the first Australian men's or women's football team to win a knockout game at a World Cup by beating 2007 runners-up Brazil 1-0.

Their progress in Canada has been impressive after emerging from a difficult Group D which included the United States, Sweden and Nigeria.

"We believe we can (go all the way) and we have since the start of the tournament," said forward Sam Kerr who has started all four of their games. "Obviously, beating Brazil, one of the best teams in the world, gives you massive self-belief and brings us closer as a family," she added.

Japan are the only team to have won all their games but midfielder Emily van Egmond believes the Australians can break through for a first win against the fourth-ranked champions since 2010.

"We've had a great preparation since Jan 12," she said. "We've been together pretty much since then, working hard and working towards this tournament. There's no better preparation that I've been a part of with the Matildas, it's been great.

"They're going to be just as up for it as we are but we're full of confidence heading into this game. We lost the final (in the Asian Cup) and we're looking for a bit of revenge."

The Matildas have the benefit of an extra two days to prepare for the clash, as Japan beat the Netherlands 2-1 on Tuesday.

Stajcic said the most important thing was to refocus the players.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves and think it's all roses. We've still got a long way to go and we're going to do it.

"With such a young team, you just see so much growth and development. They're 21, 22-year-old kids that just keep growing every day.

"If they keep growing, we can beat anyone in the world."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Matildas waltz to new coach's tune'. Print Edition | Subscribe