After watching Japan defeat Netherlands in their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Round of 16 clash, I'm convinced the Matildas have what it takes to beat their AFC rival in the quarter-finals and take the next step in what is already a remarkable journey.
Here are the 5 reasons why I feel the Matilda's will have the edge:
1. The Matildas are battle hardened
To use the words of Australia coach Alen Stajcic, the Matildas are "battle hardened" and used to playing the world's best. Having already played three teams ranked in FIFA's Top 10, the Matildas are ready for anything and anyone. The USA were ranked 2nd in the world, Sweden 5th and Brazil 7th and in each match the girls more than matched their opponent. Even the 3-1 loss to USA could have been a different story had it not been for the goal-keeping brilliance of Hope Solo. Now they face Japan, which is ranked 4 in the world, but that won't faze this group one bit.
The Matildas and Stajcic have impressed with the tactical discipline showed in every match so far. Apart from a couple of lapses against USA, Australia has shown how far we've come in terms of organisation, tactical awareness and preparation for every possible scenario. Japan was brilliant four years ago when it claimed its first World Cup title in Germany, but this time round it has shown a few signs of weakness, despite winning all four of its games so far. The Round of 16 match against Netherlands was an open affair at times, with plenty of opportunities at both ends. On current form, the Matildas would make a lot more of the opportunities wasted by the Dutch.
One aspect that really stood out against Brazil in the Round of 16 was the incredible speed, sharpness, intensity and overall fitness the Matildas showed throughout the entire 90 minutes. Brazil struggled to deal with the constant pressure on the ball and found it hard to find space anywhere on the park. Even into the dying minutes, the intensity remained the same - Australia reducing Brazil to only a couple of chances while remaining dangerous on the break. If the Matildas play the same way against Japan, they will cause the Japanese a lot of problems.
4. More rest time
In tournament play rest is everything, so it's a huge advantage that the Matildas have two extra days to prepare for the quarter-final. In a bizarre Round of 16 schedule, the Matildas played Brazil on Monday at 3am AEST while Japan played Netherlands two days later on the Wednesday at 12pm. While Australia should be fresh and ready to go, Japan will have a much more hurried lead-in to the game, which will suit the Matildas
Rest is even more critical in this tournament, considering all games are played on artificial surfaces, which is even more taxing on the body. The extra time also allows Stajcic and his staff more sessions to work on the tactical plan and any changes he might want to implement for the quarter-final.
Japan has won all its matches so far but has been less-than convincing, recording a single goal victory in each game. It only beat Equador 1-0 in its final group match, a team which finished with a -16 goal difference, while also finding life difficult at times against Netherlands. The bizarre consolation goal scored by Netherlands, perhaps an indication that this team is not the force it was four years ago.
While the Matildas have recorded two wins, a draw and a loss on their way to the quarters, they have been growing stronger and stronger in all areas. The performance against Brazil was one of superb energy, intensity and pressure, brilliant tactical discipline and deadliness in frpont of goal when the opportunity arose. Together with the wave of support they have received both here and around the world, the determination and belief within the camp, the momentum is certainly with the girls in green and gold.