SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia coach Alen Stajcic thinks an upset victory in Monday’s World Cup opener against the United States could be the first step on his team’s path to becoming a superpower in women’s football.
The Matildas, who have never made it beyond the quarter-finals in five World Cups, begin their Group D campaign in Winnipeg against the twice champion Americans, the perfect stage to make a statement of intent.
“I think we definitely can,” Stajcic told Reuters in an interview before leaving Australia.
“I think there’s so much talent and belief in this group. If we can bring our ‘A’ game that day, I’m sure we’re going to be a big rival to the U.S. I’m sure they’re going to know they’re in a game that day.
“Our ultimate goal is to compete for medals, so to do that you have to get into the business end of the tournament. I really believe this group can do that.
“We want to be a world force in the next few years and this is our first step on the road to achieving that goal.”
Group D, which also features Sweden and Nigeria, is one of the toughest in the tournament but Stajcic said after the initial shock of the draw had worn off, it had been something of an advantage to have such a tough encounter first up.
“It was obviously a heart in throat moment,” the 41-year-old said. “It couldn’t get any tougher but we’re looking forward to the challenge. It really narrows the focus when you get drawn out against America in the first game.
“You know you have to focus all your energies on that game and you have to hit the ground running. We’re really focussed 100 percent on getting every detail done to make sure we’re ready to go.
“It’s a positive in many ways, it really makes sure it runs on task and everybody’s focussed when you have to play one of the best teams in the world in game one.”
Stajcic has overhauled the culture of the squad since taking over last year in a caretaker capacity from Hesterine de Reus after the Dutch coach was sacked in the wake of a player mutiny over her training methods.
“We want to be competing for medals, we want to be in the elite two or three that can win a World Cups, win Olympic Games,” he said.
“If you want to do that, you have to have the right environment and culture off the field. The players responded tremendously.”
Despite losing to world champions Japan in the Asian Cup final to give up the title they won in 2010, Stajcic was awarded the job on a permanent basis and set about a moulding a team to play in the style he has championed throughout his career in women’s soccer.
“We’re going to be an Australian team who plays with all the heart and spirit that all our national teams are renowned for,” he added.
“There’s definitely that in our DNA. But we’re looking to be a possession-based team and a team that really goes out to win games.
“That’s at the heart of our philosophy, a positive team, a team with dynamic players and a dynamic attitude who want to take the game to the opposition and goes out to win every game.”
Stajcic is hoping that a breakthrough World Cup in Canada might bring a greater profile for women’s football in sports-mad Australia and make life a bit easier for his players.
“They’re a great team with great role models who have made a massive amount of sacrifice to get where they are,” he said.
“They do find it hard to balance school and work and football and all the other things in life.
“It’s a tough road but one that they all take willingly because they love their country and they love their sport.
“And hopefully a little bit of success will reward them with a little more financial incentive so they can dedicate more professional time to football.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury