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  • Ellis Gelios

FlowSports unwraps the biggest event to hit our shores as Women's World Cup fever takes over

In eight days from now, Australia will rally behind Sam Kerr and the Matildas as one of the nation's favourite sporting teams of the last few years will mount an assault to secure the coveted FIFA Women's World Cup, on home soil.

The Matildas have performed admirably in many tournaments over the last decade and as co-hosts will be labelled by many as an outside chance at taking out the tournament.

The side which boasts a vast array of talent and a superb mix of youth and experienced players - the envy of many other national teams in the women's stakes, beat former Champions Brazil at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, matched it with the best at the 2016 Olympics and won the 2010 Women's Asian Cup in China.

However, there are also the naysayers, who have argued that despite their global stars, the Aussies have shown on too many occasions that they have a soft underbelly.

During a crucial time in which the face of the Matildas, Sam Kerr, one of the game's record holders as far as individual honours are concerned, the Matildas have fallen considerably short of targets under their Swedish manager Tony Gustavsson.

The Matildas are entering the world cup off the back of a largely underwhelming 2022 Women's Asian Cup campaign in which they could not progress beyond the quarter-finals stage.

Prior to then, in 2021 at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the side reached the semi-finals, but did not play convincingly at times and questions were asked as to what the style and approach was to their football.

The Matildas slumped to one of their all time lows back in 2019 at the previous world cup in France, failing to progress beyond the first knockout phase of the tournament when their playing stocks were so high.

There's little doubt that the pitchforks will be out for Gustavsson if the Matildas fall short of anything that isn't entertaining attacking football which leads them to at the very minimum, a semi-final.

Thus it is important to note the context of the pressure the hosts will be under going into the tournament.

But while Aussie fans have spent the past few weeks crawling over each other to secure Matildas tickets, there is little noise being made this side of the Tasman about Australia's fellow co-hosts, New Zealand.

It is the view of this scribe that the Football Ferns will be the true dark horses of the upcoming world cup.

With little expectation comes a tremendous platform to perform above and beyond when it comes to knockout football; remember Greece at the 2004 European Championships and Iraq in the 2007 Asian Cup?

Both nations became continental champions against all odds.

Add to that the fact that the Kiwis are a very good footballing nation at women's level, with a multitude of players playing their club football in the best leagues in the world.

A handful of New Zealand's star players are based in the English Women's Super League, the top tier of the women's game in the UK, such as goalkeeper Anna Leat, Rebekah Stott, CJ Bott and Ashleigh Ward, while midfielder Olivia Chance plays for one of Scotland's top teams in Celtic, as does Victoria Esson, a goalkeeper at Celtic's rivals, Rangers.

The NWSL in the United States is viewed by many as being on-par with the Women's Super League in the UK, and the Kiwis have a number of their stars also based in the States, namely in Ali Riley and Katie Bowen.

In terms of other national teams to look out for outside of the two host nations, the usual fanfare will surround traditional heavyweights at the tournament such as the United States, Canada, England, Spain, Germany, Sweden, France, Brazil and the Netherlands.

As far as other teams go which have the potential to fly under the radar, keep a lookout for Italy, Argentina and Denmark, who have shown in previous tournaments that they shouldn't be taken lightly.

It could also be a time to shine for teams from the Asian Confederation considering the tournament is being held down under, during a time in which the women's game is undergoing rapid growth in the region.

China's women's team are an anomaly in that they are already highly competitive, though after an era in which enormous levels of investment went into Chinese football and similarly to their male counterparts, there are no trophies to show as a return on investment.

Despite this, the Chinese should be good enough to get out of Group D which includes Denmark, England and Haiti. South Korea are always tricky and should emerge from Group H, while the aforementioned Japan will almost certainly progress out of their group which also contains Spain, Costa Rica and Zambia.

But keep your eyes on New Zealand - Norway, ranked 12th in the world might well give them a game, but they are in arguably the easiest group in the tournament, pitted alongside the Philippines and Switzerland who would both do well to mount any serious challenge.

Along with their roster, which again in the opinion of this author is one of the most underrated, boasting hidden gems, excitable, yet undiscovered stars of tomorrow plying their trade in Oceania and hardened veterans, as well as being co-hosts in an easy group, which should see them comfortably into the knockout rounds with those ferocious Kiwi winds behind them, will be very formidable.


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