Matildas coach Alen Stajcic admits it. He does dream of winning the World Cup.
“Of course I do. Everyone does,” Stajcic told The New Daily.
“It’s what we’re all striving for. We all let ourselves dream a little bit. There’s no doubt this team is capable of that but the focus always has to be short term and focusing on that next match.”
The Matildas are closer than they’ve ever been to football’s ultimate prize. Ranked sixth in the world, they head to France in June next year as a live prospect to win the tournament.
The coach’s focus on the here and now is judicious. On Saturday, the Matildas host Chile at Penrith stadium in Sydney and again in Newcastle on Tuesday for the women’s International Friendlies.
If they are to hang on to their sixth-placed world ranking and avoid other world heavyweights such as The US, France, England, Germany and Canada in the draw for the group stages next June, success against Chile is vital.
A friendly this isn’t.
The return to Penrith will be welcomed by the Matildas, who enjoyed a breakthrough moment at the venue in September 2017. That day they beat Brazil in front of a sell-out crowd and then repeated the dose in Newcastle a few days later.
Women’s football was big time and the Matildas became household names.
“That was a watershed moment on and off the field,” Stajcic said.
“The victory against The US earlier in that year was something we’d never done before so to get a sellout crowd at Penrith and out draw both NRL and AFL finals just showed what the power of women’s football could be.”
Star power is something the Matildas have. Sam Kerr is Australia’s most talented footballer and the most recognisable face in the game – both mens and womens.
Kerr was shortlisted for the highest individual prize in the game, the Ballon d’Or, in 2018. As she gets to the back end of a long year she has been nursing a few niggles as she launches into another W-League season with Perth Glory.
For Australia to win in France, Stajcic needs Kerr in full flight. He insists his team has the conviction to succeed whatever challenges it faces.
“Without question there is more belief in the team. We’ve beaten and competed with the topped ranked nations in the world,” Stajcic said.
“I think there is a genuine belief in the team that we can compete with and beat any team on the planet.
“Our goal now is to put together six or seven matches in a row where we play at that level – and that’s what you have to do to win the World Cup.”
Stajcic concedes the pressure on his team will only intensify.
“There is more expectation and with that comes all the extra-curricular commitments that go with football teams, which adds extra pressure, but the team is coming to terms with that in a mature way,” he said.
The Matildas’ 2018 has produced modest results.
They finished fourth at the Algarve Cup, and failed to register a win in two games against 33rd-ranked Portugal. They lost the Asian Cup final to a wonder goal from Japan’s Kumi Yokoyama.
A strong performance at the Tournament of Nations in August saw them claim victories against Brazil and Japan. It was a late equaliser from the Americans that denied the Matildas a second consecutive victory against the US.
A loss to France and a draw with England on the road in Europe had a few observers nervous that the Matildas were off the boil. Stajcic is unfazed.
“The biggest challenge for us has been the lack of fluency, we haven’t been able to put the same team together. We’ve had six or so injuries every time we’ve played together,” he said.
“It’s made building the chemistry in the team a challenge but we’ve always talked about building depth and I think we’ve done that.”
The Matildas coach is fully aware what World Cup success for his team would mean for the next generation of girls dreaming of playing for Australia.
“For the first time in history young Australian boys and girls will have female football stars to look up to,” he said.
“If we asked our squad who their sporting heroes were growing up, few of them would have mentioned a female footballer. They most likely would mention Cathy Freeman or a male footballer.
“I think young kids growing up today will have a Sam Kerr or an Emily van Egmond or a cricketer like Ellyse Perry that they can aspire to become.
“We’ll seen the legacy of today’s female athletes in 10 or 20 years’ time – that’s something they can be proud of.”
The Matildas v Chile
Saturday, November 10, Panthers Stadium, Penrith, 3.30pm
Tuesday, November 13, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, 7.30pm