With just over 24 hours to go before the start of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the feeling emanating from both the Australia and the Republic of Ireland camps was excitement.
The tournament will officially open earlier in the day at a sold out Eden Park as New Zealand take on Norway but all eyes will then turn to Sydney with the promise of over 80,000 fans turning out at Stadium Australia.
“I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time so it’s nice that it’s finally here” Australia captain Sam Kerr told the gathered media. “To come to the stadium and have the realisation that we really have brought the Women’s World Cup to Australia is a proud moment for all of us.”
It is a huge moment for both sides for different reasons. The Matildas have been a mainstay of the competition, having featured in every edition bar 1991. Despite their quality, however, they have never made it past the quarter-final stage. Tony Gustavsson’s arrival in 2020 has re-energised a team that contains a fine blend of experience – the likes of Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Claire Polkinghorne – with the emerging talent of Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin.
Gustavsson emphasised that his role has been about “having them understand how good they are”. “The identity of the team was here before I arrived,” he said. “As a coach, it’s getting to know players and how to get the most out of them…These players have been amazing in terms of embracing a new generation. We have a perfect mix of experience and youth going into this World Cup.”
For Ireland, on the other hand, this is a tournament of firsts. One of the World Cup’s eight debutants, the Girls in Green are treading new ground just by being here, capturing the hearts and minds of those back home. But while they are proud of their achievements to date, Vera Pauw made it very clear that their ambitions were to compete with the world’s top nations.
“We did something that nobody expected,” the Irish manager said. “But we are realistic, otherwise you cannot succeed. The key thing that everybody will feel is that we have no fear of failure. We will go into this game in a way that we think that we can fight against Australia and without any fear, whether it’s the crowd or whether it’s the pressure of the opponent. We’re ready for that and we will see if it’s good enough.”
Captain Katie McCabe only echoed these thoughts. “We know the qualities in the Australian team,” she stated. “They’ve got world class players and they’ve got the experience of playing in World Cups and major tournaments… But we also know what we have in our locker and we’ll be making sure to keep their strengths at bay as much as we can tomorrow night. It’s going to be an exciting test.”
Come 8 o’clock Sydney time on Thursday night, both teams will have already made history. The 90 minutes that follow will set the tone for the tournament and matches to come.