Australia will front up for their final Group F match of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics when they take on Zimbabwe at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, at 4pm local time.
For Zimbabwe, making it to the Olympics was an achievement in itself, beating quality opposition to claim one of the two African slots. Their coach Shadreck Mlauzi, who only recently took up the position, is the first coach to take a Zimbabwean team to the Olympics. No doubt he will be pushing for the girls to display a strong performance against Australia in order to boost the profile of the game back home.
After two losses in the group stage already, 6-1 to Germany and 3-1 to Canada, Zimbabwe need a substantial win over Australia, as well as several other results to work their way, to have any hope of claiming a 3rd place entry into the knockout phase of competition. No matter the result against Australia, there are already positives to take out of the tournament for Zimbabwe. Scoring goals against world class teams such as Germany and Canada (both in the top ten) in their first Olympic birth is impressive. The Zimbabwean women’s national team had a challenging road to the Rio Olympics at the 2016 CAF African Cup, having to rally from several losses to claim their place by beating 2012 Olympic participants Cameroon.
Although Australia is certainly the favourite in the upcoming match, after drawing with world number two Germany, Zimbabwe are not to be underestimated. They will also be aware of Australia’s standing, and will not want to concede cheap goals and give them an easier ride to the quarter finals. After several changes in the first two games, it will be interesting to see how Alen Stajcic manages the side. No doubt he will use some fresh legs from the bench, if Australia is able to gain a comfortable lead. Many members of the restricted 18 person Olympic roster have played two full games in 4 days. Australia will need to find the right balance in terms of sharing the load, while also piling on the pressure to get the positive result needed for a potential second place finish. So far Australia has been fortunate not to gain any serious injuries, but the importance of managing the squad’s health through a 2 week long competition is something that cannot be undervalued.
Zimbabwe’s Players to Watch
Kudakwashe Basopo: Basopo scored against Germany in the 50th minute of the game on Thursday to bring the score back to 2-1. Although her team ended up getting soundly beaten, her attacking power lifted her side and was a real wakeup call for the world number two.
Mavis Chirandu: Chirandu’s 86th minute goal against Canada on Saturday was too late to drive a comeback, as Canada had already cemented a 3 goal advantage. But her persistence late in the game, and ability to catch the Canadian defence off-guard was important, especially in a tournament where every goal for or against has immense value. Both Chirandu and Basopo will be watched carefully by the Australian defence after proving their worth against Canada and Germany.
Australia’s Players to Watch
Lydia Williams: While the focus of the fans is often at the fancy footwork and attacking maneuvers up forward, Lydia Williams has proven herself time and again to be a steadfast stronghold for the Australian national team in the goals. So far in this tournament Lydia has pulled off several acrobatic aerial saves and stopped a penalty. If Australia is to progress deeply in this tournament we will need Williams firing on all cylinders.
Lisa De Vanna: De Vanna is a veteran for the Matildas, scoring 39 goals in her 114 games for her country. De Vanna has scored in every Olympic and World Cup tournament she has appeared in (Athens 2004, China 2007, Germany 2011, Canada 2015), and is a ticking time bomb in this tournament. Given she turns 32 later this year, this will likely be her last major tournament and she will certainly be wanting to go out with a bang, and get her name on the scoresheet for Australia one more time.
Australia vs Zimbabwe
Arena Fonte Nova
Tuesday, 9 August
Kick off 4pm (Wednesday, 10 August 5am AEST)
LIVE nationally on 7 (LIVE stream: 7rio2016.com.au)