Australia enters the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France with perhaps the greatest chance in their history of lifting the trophy. Ranked sixth in the world rankings, as covered by The Guardian, Ante Milicic will hope that his brief time in charge will have enough of an impact for the Australian women to live up to their potential after the surprising firing of Alen Stajcic in January.
After only playing a few friendlies together since Milicic’s hiring and some disappointing results in recent years, Australia has been under the radar when the top teams in the World Cup are mentioned. Still, in the short window since Milicic’s hiring, the Australian manager has been able to implement his aggressive pressing style with a tight-knit squad.
While the style has sometimes left Australia open for counterattacks, as the recent 5-3 defeat to the United States showed, the women have gained confidence in Milicic’s vision as they pressured a team considered by most to be the best in the world into uncharacteristic mistakes. While they will face difficulties against the stronger teams in the world, Milicic’s plan to have Australia dominate possession, attack with intent, and force the other team to adapt to them could create some entertaining matches during the tournament.
Australia boasts a squad that is a dynamic mix of veterans and rising players. With many of the team playing soccer year-round in both the W-League and the NWSL, Australia contains some of the most well-drilled players competing in the tournament. The team is led by captain Sam Kerr, one of the world’s biggest stars in women’s soccer. Kerr is currently on an unprecedented run of dominance, having become the all-time leading goalscorer in both the NWSL and the W-League with four consecutive Golden Boots to her name at only 25. While Kerr doesn’t receive the same attention or recognition as the stars based in Europe, she is likely to impress in France.
The timing of Stajcic’s firing and Milicic’s appointment make it clear that this current Australia team is one in transition. While the hype that surrounded Australia’s tournament hopes in the aftermath of their 2017 Tournament of Nations victory — which included a 1-0 victory over the United States — has mostly dissipated, there is no doubt that Australia still has one of the most talented squads they have ever assembled. If Kerr continues her domination, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if the women disrupt expectations and make it to the final.