When: Thursday, July 20
Where: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Kickoff: 8pm (10:00 GMT)
If Australia captain Sam Kerr is carrying the weight of a country’s expectations on her shoulders, she has done well to not let herself get bogged down by them.
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The tournament co-hosts open their much-anticipated campaign against the Republic of Ireland in front of a packed Stadium Australia in Sydney on Thursday.
Kerr, the Matildas’ forward and biggest name on the pitch, said going into the match that will kick off her team’s journey in the tournament seemed “a bit unreal.”
“It’s actually happening. All the prep work that we’ve done for years, all the days of hard work, and now it’s finally coming together in 24 hours,” she said during the pre-match press conference alongside coach Tony Gustavsson.
Tomorrow in our sights 👀
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) July 19, 2023
Kerr pointed to the Matildas’ versatility and ability to play different roles as a reason why they have won nine of their last 10 matches, including a 1-0 win over France in a friendly last Friday and a 2-0 win over England in April that ended the Lionesses’ 30-game unbeaten streak.
A record crowd of about 83,000 is expected for the match, the most significant sporting event Australia has hosted since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The 29-year-old Kerr, who made her debut for Australia at 15 and is taking part in her fourth World Cup, said rather than feeling the weight of pressure, she and her teammates are embracing the support.
“I mean, Aussies love their sport, don’t they?” the Chelsea forward said. “But to be at home and get the feel for it, walk down the streets and see people that are excited or flying around the country to watch us, it’s nice to be able to feel the love.”
In contrast, Ireland are at their first World Cup and head into the clash with no big-time experience.
But they received a boost with experienced midfielder Denise O’Sullivan declared fit after being hurt in an abandoned friendly with Colombia last week.
Captain Katie McCabe said the Irish were ready for Australia.
“We’re Irish, we don’t shy away from physicality. It’s ingrained in us, the hard-working team we are,” she said.
“So yes, we are ready for Australia to be physical tomorrow, we’ll be prepared to match it.”
Ireland’s coach Vera Pauw admitted that Australia’s greater World Cup experience could prove crucial.
“They have huge experience, they have class players, they have immense pace so we know what we are going to face,” she said.
“We are very realistic of our chances here, but we play every game to win and hope we can also show our qualities.”
Australia team news
Despite injury concerns around midfielder Tameka Yallop, coach Gustavsson has not disclosed any information about the fitness of his team.
Ireland team news
Ireland’s coach Vera Pauw said O’Sullivan has made a “remarkable recovery” to be fit for the opening game. “We are very open, we have nothing to hide. Denise is fit, she will play,” Pauw said.
Form and rankings
Australia: W W L W W
The 10th-ranked team are among the favourites after a string of strong recent results.
Ireland: D L W L L
Ireland are ranked 22nd but will hope to put on a fight against the favourites.
That Irish love 💚
— Ireland Football ⚽️🇮🇪 (@IrelandFootball) July 19, 2023
Head to head
Ireland upset the Matildas 3-2 in 2021, the only time the two sides have met.
Players to watch
Australia: Kerr, a Golden Boot favourite and an icon in the sport, will be the local fans’ favourite to lead her team to the final stages of the tournament. With 55 goals in her last 72 internationals, fans will hope to catch a glimpse of her trademark cartwheel-backflip goal celebration.
“It’s about entertainment and having fun and showing what football is about. Maybe it might [happen], maybe it won’t,” the captain said.
For the team, the pursuit of greatness never ends, both on and off the pitch. The time is now.
We are fearlessly staring down the #FIFAWWC, and won’t rest:
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) June 27, 2023
Ireland: Arsenal’s Katie McCabe is an all-round player who brings the team together as its young captain, and will be vital to Ireland’s chances in the tournament.
Off we go 🇦🇺✈️ thank you for an incredible send off yesterday ☘️💚 pic.twitter.com/IhF1sedI3g
— Katie McCabe (@Katie_McCabe11) July 7, 2023