Australia will go into the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018 as the clear favourites after rising to an all time high as the fourth best team in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings.
The highlight of Australia’s 2017 came at the Tournament of Nations in July and August when Alen Stajcic’s team secured successive victories over the USA, Japan and Brazil to be crowned inaugural champions.
Australia appeared in the very first AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 1975 when they finished third in Hong Kong, but have achieved their best performances since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
As hosts the same year, Australia advanced all the way to the final, only to let a two-goal lead slip against China PR before the East Asians eventually won on penalties.
In 2008, the Matildas finished fourth but returned two years later to be crowned continental champions for the first time.
After finishing second in their group behind hosts China PR, Kate Gill scored the only goal of the game in the semi-final against Japan to secure a place in their first final on the continent.
The current AFC Women’s Player of the Year Samantha Kerr put the Australians in front and, although DPR Korea levelled to eventually force penalties, Australia were not to be denied as Kyah Simon netted the decisive spot-kick to claim a 5-4 victory.
A place in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was the reward and Australia matched their 2007 showing in reaching the quarter-finals, before being knocked out by Sweden.
Four years ago, in Vietnam, Australia advanced from a group comprising Japan, Jordan and the hosts to book a date in the semi-finals with Korea Republic.
Katrina Gorry put the Australians in front just after half-time and, after the East Asians equalised, Elise Kellond-Knight wrapped up a 2-1 victory to secure a place in their second successive final.
However, Australia were unable to claim back-to-back titles as Japan ran out 1-0 winners.
A year later at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Australia lost their tournament opener to the USA but defeated Nigeria and drew with Sweden to progress to the last 16.
Simon’s solitary strike then claimed an excellent 1-0 victory over Brazil, before Japan again proved their nemesis as a late goal secured another 1-0 win for the East Asians.
Australia, though, have continued their improvement in recent times and, with talent such as Kerr, captain Lisa De Vanna and Kellond-Knight all within their ranks, will be strong contenders to be crowned continental champions. – www.the-afc.com