Despite the recent conclusion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the best teams in Asia are back on the qualification trail once again. This time it’s the Olympics in their sight.
With recent World Champions Japan, 2010 Asian Cup Winners Australia, 2010 Asian Cup finalists DPR Korea, traditional powerhouses China and the emerging South Korea in the pool, the AFC has become one of the most hotly contested confederations in women’s football.
5 games in 11 days is the equation, with a top two finish the objective. We spoke with Matildas coach Tom Sermanni ahead of their first game against DPR Korea, their opponents in that memorable Asian Cup final.
Tom, how crucial is this tournament in relation to maintaining the momentum built up during the World Cup?
I think it’s very critical. I think if we can qualify for the Olympics, it really keeps the momentum going, it keeps the squad ticking along and it keeps us progressing.
But what we have to make sure of is if we don’t qualify, we don’t lose momentum and we keep this team rebuilding.
Ahead of today’s match, how is the squad looking?
Very well. Everybody is fit and healthy. The players are positive and everybody is in a good frame of mind.
The difficulty with this tournament is that, apart from the World Cup games, we haven’t had any other games to gauge where we are in relation to match fitness but the mood of the team is good.
DPR Korea. You have met them numerous times in the last 18 months. How are you looking at approaching them today?
Basically like we will all the other games. We have a basic structure and system that we want to play.
In all honesty they are a bit of an unknown going into this game because DPR have obviously had five players suspended. They have changed their coach and so a little bit of the unknown. But we just want to make the players aware of the threats that DPR Korea can throw at us.
Considering the task that is ahead of you and the sapping conditions in China, do you pace yourself in this kind of tournament?
No you have to go full bore. It’s not a kind of tournament where you think you can play your way into it. You want to get off to as good a start as possible and then you might have to grind from game to game.
Once the games start today, the time will just fly by. The key thing is you want to prepare the team as well as you can for each game.
No, as soon as that first whistle blows, we need to ready to go.
Once again before a major tournament injuries have struck the squad with the loss of striker Sam Kerr. How big a blow was that to the squad?
A huge blow to be honest. Sam, as you know, is such an effervescent character. She is always upbeat, she’s lively, she’s popular. She just doesn’t get phased by much.
I have never seen her in a bad mood! That sort of attitude is infectious around the squad, so when she went down the players were absolutely devastated.
Leena Khamis was probably at the forefront of most people’s minds in terms of a replacement but Michelle Heyman comes in to take her place. Can you talk us through that selection process?
I think for this particular tournament, I think Michelle has the potential to offer us more flexibility. Leena always does an outstanding job for the national team but if you bring Leena in you have more of an out and out centre forward.
Michelle can play on the right or left or as a centre forward. Physically she is a bit bigger than Leena and I think that might be an asset in these games.
So when we weighed up all those factors and looked at a player that might do some of the jobs that Sam would have done for us, we felt that Michelle was a better fit.
Best of luck Tom