The Matildas continue their 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign against Brazil on Friday morning (AEST). Can the Australians bounce back from their shock loss to Italy, or will Brazil add to the Matildas’ misery in Montpellier? Here are five things to keep an eye on at the Stade de la Mosson.
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It might not quite be do or die – the qualification of the best third-placed teams provides some breathing room – but the Matildas’ clash with Brazil could well define their World Cup campaign.
After a bitterly disappointing last-minute defeat to the Italians, Australia must bounce back against the Canarinhas.
A loss would leave their hopes of progression on tenterhooks, while a draw would put enormous pressure on the final group match against Jamaica.
A win, against world number 10-ranked Brazil, would send a defiant message to the Matildas’ critics: ‘Our World Cup campaign is not over yet.’
Here’s what we will be watching for in sunny Montpellier.
1. Do Australia have Brazil’s number?
The Matildas’ all-time record against Brazil is finely balanced.
Australia have collected nine wins to the Brazilians’ eight, with one draw.
But the Australians have had the better of recent encounters. They beat Brazil 3-1 at the Tournament of Nations in 2018, and recorded three wins against the Canarinhas in 2017 – with an overall goal tally of 11 to 4.
Brazil haven’t overcome Australia since 2016, when they knocked out the Matildas on penalties in the quarter-finals of the Olympics.
Three years is a long time in football, and their impressive recent record will give Australia the psychological advantage. Can they make it count?
2. Is 'KK' the saviour?
Elise Kellond-Knight was a late substitute in the Italy match, due to a prior injury.
Her absence in the first 83 minutes was noticeable – Australia struggled to control the centre of the park without their ever-reliable midfield rock.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Matildas coach Ante Milicic indicated that KK, as the 28-year-old is known, is a possibility to start.
“KK coming back into the squad is very important for us – she’s a natural six and a lot of our good play in the past has come through her,” Milicic said.
“We will make a decision tonight whether we’ll start her or use her off the bench, but it’s very positive for us that we can get more minutes from her in the Brazil game than in the Italy game.”
3. Can Australia’s forwards fire?
Sam Kerr may have broken her World Cup duck on Sunday, following up on a rebound after her penalty attempt was saved, but the Matildas talisman was otherwise unusually quiet against Italy.
If Australia are to beat Brazil, Kerr and her strike-force partners will need to be back at their best.
The teams’ three past World Cup encounters have all been decided by a single goal (a 3-2 Brazil win in 2007 and a pair of 1-0 results in more recent editions).
If that trend continues, Kerr and the likes of Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso and Lisa De Vanna must execute any opportunities that come their way.
One reason suggested for Kerr’s ineffectiveness against Italy was her positioning on the wing, cutting inside rather than playing centrally.
Milicic hinted that Kerr might play in a more central role on Thursday, and that the attacking line-up could see some fresh faces.
“[Making changes] is something we’ve looked at,” he said.
“There’s a good chance we’ll be looking to change a few things out there.”
4. Are Brazil on the up?
Until they beat Jamaica 3-0 to begin their World Cup campaign, Brazil were enduring a historic losing streak.
Since defeating Japan in July 2018, the Canarinhas had lost nine consecutive matches.
Some of these were against heavyweights – two losses to the United States, and two defeats at the hands of England. But some where not: the most recent losses were to Spain and Scotland.
Brazil looked better against Jamaica, as a Cristiane hat-trick fired them to the three points.
They also have bags of experience in Formiga (at her seventh World Cup), and a nation right behind them – almost 20 million Brazilians tuned into the broadcast of the Jamaica clash.
The million-dollar question for the Matildas is whether Brazil are back to winning ways, or whether the Jamaica result was an outlier in an ongoing form slump.
5. Are the Matildas mentally up to shape?
There has been talk this week in France that the continued speculation over the sacking of Alen Stajcic was affecting the players, along with the barrage of criticism that followed the unexpected loss to Italy.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, who is in Montpellier to support the team, dismissed this speculation.
“It’s just noise,” Arnold said.
“They are not ranked sixth in the world for nothing."
“They will come out and do the country proud.”
Vice-captain Steph Catley was adamant that the pressure and criticism was not getting to the players.
“I have not read a lot [of the coverage] – I tend to stay off social media after results like that,” Catley said.
“It doesn’t change anything in the camp – we’re very positive of what we can do as a team.”
Kieran Pender is covering the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for The World Game. Follow him on Twitter: @KieranPender.