The Matildas’ four-year project to attack the World Cup finally has lift-off on Sunday, when Sam Kerr leads Australia in their opening match against Italy.
And Australia’s best World Cup performer, Lisa De Vanna, believes it could be Australia’s time.
“I honestly believe the generation we have, the golden generation, we can potentially win it,” she said from Valenciennes, the site of Sunday’s opening match.
This is the tournament that has been circled for Australia to leave a mark. While 2019 has so far been a year of tumult for the Matildas, it can still be one of triumph.
Much expectation rests on Kerr’s shoulders as the brightest star, but she’ll have plenty of support in France.
No fewer than 13 players are backing up from the 2015 tournament in Canada, with next-gen stars like Mary Fowler and Ellie Carpenter joining the fray.
Up front, Kerr is joined by childhood friend Caitlin Foord, comeback winger Hayley Raso and legendary forward De Vanna.
In the middle, Emily van Egmond and Elise Kellond-Knight can provide a base for Tameka Yallop, Chloe Logarzo and fit-again talent Katrina Gorry to shine.
At the back, Australia’s best back four of Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne and Carpenter sit in front of one of the world’s best goalkeepers; Lydia Williams.
Many of those names are at the peak of their powers, ready to fire on the sport’s biggest stage.
But they’ve had to overcome plenty already this year.
The first bombshell came in January, when coach Alen Stajcic was sacked after FFA saw the development of an unhealthy team culture on his watch.
The coach, who had overseen a rise in the world rankings since taking the job in 2014, was replaced by highly-rated Socceroos assistant Ante Milicic, with players reporting an improved atmosphere.
Milicic’s honeymoon period – defeats of New Zealand, Argentina and South Korea on home soil in March – is now in the past.
The Matildas took on tough away assignments to USA and Netherlands, losing both.
The squad was rocked by the loss of experienced pair Kyah Simon and Laura Alleway in the past fortnight, with Alleway’s departure leaving the side short of depth at the back.
With an injury cloud over Kellond-Knight and Fowler for Sunday’s match in Valenciennes, the excuses appear to be mounting for Australia, but Milicic said the mood was still “very upbeat and very confident”.
“These little setbacks are all part of the journey of an Australian footballer,” he said.
These girls are very resilient. You just look at the path they went through to get here.
“Rest assured, what we’re going to overcome now … will just make our results and our progress even sweeter.”
De Vanna, out to score at her fourth-straight event, believes Australia can triumph but has set a benchmark of making the last four, given the Matildas have been quarter-finalists in their last three events.
“If we can to semis, then anything could happen,” she said.
“If we can play off for a medal, I’ll be happy for that.”
Fowler will not play in Sunday’s tournament opener, but after reviewing scans, Milicic and his staff have decided against sending the teenager home.
Fowler is the youngest player at the tournament and will become the youngest Australian to play at a World Cup if she debuts.
That opportunity will have to present itself later in the tournament after her setback in training on Thursday.
Kellond-Knight has been a central figure under Milicic, but the 28-year-old didn’t train fully on Friday as she recovers from a calf problem.
On Saturday, the Matildas were denied a chance to train at the match venue, the Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes.
Officials requested teams kept to their off-site training venues to maintain the pitch ahead of the Group C clash.
The decision to keep faith with Fowler means Kyra Cooney-Cross, who impressed over the past fortnight as a train-on player, can stay on holiday.