Matildas face tough opening Asian Cup test

The Westfield Matildas are all set to open their AFC Women’s Asian Cup title defence in Ho Chi Minh City against World Cup winners Japan.

The Westfield Matildas are all set to open their AFC Women-s Asian Cup title defence in Ho Chi Minh City as they feature in an early tournament blockbuster against World Cup winners Japan on Wednesday 14 May 2014 at Thong Nhat Stadium.

The reigning AFC Women-s Asian Cup title holders and the current World Champions will face off in the opening match day of the competition in what is sure to provide the Westfield Matildas with an ideal gauge of how they are placed under Interim Head Coach Alen Stajcic.

Having touched down in Ho Chi Minh since last Thursday night, the squad has had just under a week to acclimatise to the humid conditions in the lead up to what is their first AFC Women-s Asian Cup encounter since they lifted the trophy in China four years ago.

Coming in as the defending champions always brings expectations with it but Stajcic is not distracted by the added hype, stating he is pleased with how his team is situated coming into the competition.

“We-ve had a good preparation over the last two to three weeks, we-ve had a couple of good camps and some training sessions here so there are no more excuses, it-s time to get into it,” Stajcic said.

Japan shape as arguably the most difficult opponent for the Westfield Matildas in a group that also comprises Jordan and host nation Vietnam, and this is despite the fact a couple of Japan-s key movers are not in Ho Chi Minh after being in kept in Europe by their clubs.

Stajcic is under no illusion of the challenge that lies ahead but believes his squad, who is at ‘full strength-, is determined to make the most of the opportunity to demonstrate the quality of Australia-s best female football talent.

“They (Japan) are missing some key players who haven-t been let go by their clubs in Europe but they-ve got class all over the field and I love watching them play, just not against us,” Stajcic said of the Matildas- first up opponents.

“We know we-re playing the World Champions and we know it-s going to be an extremely tough game but we-re going to take a positive approach into it and really try and be proactive with and without the ball, put them under pressure and see what comes of it.

“I-m really confident with the way we-ve been training and with each session we-ve got better so hopefully we can take it into the game tomorrow and really put Japan under the pump a little bit.”

Westfield W-League Julie Dolan Medallist, Tameka Butt, is set to start on the bench after taking time to recover from an ankle injury she suffered against Brazil a month ago, while goalkeeper Brianna Davey is unavailable due to a minor groin strain.

“She-s back to a 100 per cent but she hasn-t played for a month or trained for a full week yet so hopefully she-ll come off the bench tomorrow and start against Jordan,” Stajcic said of Butt.

According to Stajcic, having a near full complement of players to choose from and at his disposal is a significant bonus with the three group stage matches of the tournament coming in the space of five days. After Japan on Wednesday night, the Westfield Matildas face Jordan on Friday and then Vietnam on Sunday.

“Every player in our squad can play and most likely will play. That-s the best part about our squad, I don-t know if there are too many teams that will use the whole squad but I-m pretty confident we can use all of ours and be effective using them,” Stajcic said.

“Three games in five days in the first part of the tournament in these conditions will be really tough for the group but I think we-ve got the best squad in the tournament in terms of depth so I think that-s one advantage our team has got.”

Much has been talked about of the heat and humidity that has greeted all of the teams in Ho Chi Minh, but as Stajcic rightly points out, at the end of the day it is the same for everyone, meaning ultimately it will come down to who plays the best football.

“It-s hot and humid but it-s not a real factor in distinguishing who-s going to win the game, it-s who deals with it better on the day that will be the winner.”

The top five teams at the end of the tournament will qualify for next year-s FIFA Women-s World Cup in Canada.

Kick-Off is at 11.15pm AEST and the match can be seen LIVE and exclusive on Fox Sports 3 and 3HD.

Westfield Matildas v Japan Wednesday 14 May 2014 Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh Kick-Off: 11.15pm AEST (8.15pm local time)

LIVE & exclusive on Fox Sports 3 and 3HD

Westfield Matildas squad: 1.Brianna DAVEY (gk), 2.Teigen ALLEN, 3.Kim CARROLL, 4.Clare POLKINGHORNE, 5.Laura ALLEWAY, 6.Leena KHAMIS, 7.Hayley RASO, 8.Elise KELLOND-KNIGHT, 9.Caitlin FOORD, 10.Emily VAN EGMOND, 11.Lisa DE VANNA, 12.Kate GILL, 13.Tameka BUTT, 14.Alanna KENNEDY, 15.Nicola BOLGER, 16.Stephanie CATLEY, 17.Teresa POLIAS, 18.Lydia WILLIAMS (gk), 19.Katrina GORRY, 20.Samantha KERR, 21.Casey DUMONT (gk), 22.Ashleigh SYKES, 23.Michelle HEYMAN, 24.Emma CHECKER, 25.Amy HARRISON

HEAD TO HEAD RECORD Played 20; Australia 5; Japan 8; Draws 7

Previous Meeting Friendly - 11 July 2012 in Tokyo Japan 3 Australia 0

For further information about the AFC Women-s Asian Cup 2014, click here.