Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2011 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers - it all starts here for the Matildas

Well, not here on this very computer screen, that would be just silly. But it will start, officially, in Canberra this week with the first Matildas camp in 2010. While Tom Sermanni had close to 40 players in some camps last year, he's about to start whittling down to find his A-team that he hopes will qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany.
They can only do that by finishing in the top-three teams at the AFC Women's Asian Cup in China this May. Quite a tough ask when you consider that Australia is currently the fourth-ranked team in Asia - behind North Korea (fifth), Japan (sixth) and China (13th). The Matildas are in 14th.
But so back to the numbers at this camp later this week, there will be about 25-players at the Australian Institute of Sport. And no injured tag-alongs, only fit players will be invited.
To quote flight of the concords - it's business time.
So girlswithgame caught up with Sermanni last month to find out his thoughts on Asia, from the under-16 girls failed qualifying, what this AFC tournament is going to be like, and what impact this W-League season has had on his Matildas thinking.

Is this camp where the real preparations for the 2010 AFC Women's Asian Cup start?
"We've had basically a year of transitioning. So now it's time to start trying to put together that 18 (field players) and who is going to be in there. But it's been tough, you look at the 18 I had at the last World Cup and this year there was only been two players in that line-up that have been available to be in camps this year. (With Sarah Walsh, Heather Garriock, Lisa de Vanna, Collette McCallum, Katie Gill and Lauren Colthorpe still playing, but just overseas). It's a significant change, so trying to find a balance in the squad to go forward, that's been tough."

Do you have a good idea of who that 21, 18 plus three goalkeepers, will be?
I've got an idea now, I'm still juggling players but we had around 40 players before, now we've looked at players closely in the W-League and we will pare the squad back. From now until getting the team sorted for May, it will be a much smaller squad.

Any standouts from this W-League season who have surprised you? The one who really hasn't been involved in anything at all is Michelle Heyman. She's really come out of nowhere. She's been the one that has stood out. In relation to others that have probably been under the radar, Servet (Uzunlar) playing at the back for Sydney, well we never would have thought of her there that was one out of left-field, but overall most of the players [that were standouts] are already involved in the program. Sam Kerr has also made an impact.

Can Michelle Heyman make that step-up to the international level? I just don't know at the moment. The thing in relation to Michelle, one of the things that makes me thing she might have a chance is that across her goals there have been some really good quality finishes. It's not like they bounced in off her shin, or she's just fallen into goal, some of her finishes have been quite accomplished. She's quite tall and physical, could that help against those smaller Asian teams too? She's is, but she's also quite mobile and she has reasonable speed with her feet in the W-League, whether that transfers over, well we'll have to wait. But I will say, that's the reason why the W-League is so important because of players like that. It gives them an opportunity.

So just how tough is it going to be to qualify for the 2011 World Cup in Germany through the AFC women's championships? It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be a very tough prospect. Three teams qualify and there are three teams higher than us in world ranking s at this stage, that tells you how tough it's going to be. Firstly, we are going in with probably the least experienced team we've ever had. The turnover, we've lost Cheryl [Salisbury], Joey [Peters], Di [Alagich] and more, there is probably 600 caps there. You can't replace that easily. That does make it difficult. Then there is the draw. There are five teams that can really challenge to make it through, [Japan, North Korea, China, South Korea and Australia], but it also means in two groups, well straight away you have three very competitive teams in one group. So we have to get past South Korea and China in our group and then if we do, need to beat North Korea or Japan in the semis. There are no games where we can afford to rest our best team. Which in these tournaments can make a big difference. Japan and North Korea may have a game or two where they can rest players in the group stage, we can't afford to do that.

What about playing China in China? (Who have been known to revert to, well, interesting tactics, before, see here) It's going to be very difficult.  But at the end of the day, in all things, we can't say well we didn't succeed because we had to play China in China. If we don't qualify, we can't use that excuse.

An Australian women's team hasn't qualified for a FIFA World Cup through Asia for three years, was it disappointing to come so close with the under-16 girls team earlier this year? It was extremely disappointing, from many aspects, probably the biggest one was that we certainly believed that we deserved to quality and played well enough to do so. But football can be a cruel game sometimes and we were very unfortunate that we didn't get the break at the right time, in the right game. In the five games we had played, apart from the Japanese game when I think the team had physically and emotionally run out of gas because of the North Korean game, apart from that game, the team played exceptionally well.

How tough has the move into Asia been? It was commented on by the AFC that they thought we were the most improved country that they had seen in the last two years [at the under-16s], but I think we have been playing catch-up since we have gone into Asia. Asian counties have had these tournaments going on for some time, whereas we basically with our younger teams we haven't had the resources or the programs or the indentification in place as well as these Asian counties. So we have been playing catch-up and it's a case of constantly refining what we are doing, what we firmly believe are the types of athletes and players that we need to take the game ahead. What we have now within our younger team is some outstanding individual players, but in a team sense and probably technically in a game sense we are probably playing a little bit of catch-up with Asian teams and that's going to take time and that's going to take us utilising the resources we have to the best of our ability. It's constantly refining, I can't sit here and say we now have to do x,y and z because we are kind of doing the stuff I think we have to do, we just probably have to tweak and refine things a little bit and keep plugging away and hopefully make that breakthrough.

Is Australian women's football getting there then? Definitely, we are getting used to it. It 's not just getting used to the Asian style as a player and this might sound daft, but getting used to going to Asia to play. It's the different temperatures, the humdity, the food. All those things play a big factor and we are still getting used to going to Asia to play. But certainly I think we are doing the right things.

So stay tuned later this week for the actual squad list attending this camp. Also don't forget to scroll down and check-out the girlswithgame 2009 W-League season wrap and the year in Australian women's football. And in other women's football news this week, the 2010 American WPS draft is just three days away. And what's this, an actual live broadcast? Well, thankyou Fox Soccer. Should be interesting to see what the Aussie girls do this year, had heard from a couple that they were staying home this year to focus on World Cup qualifiers instead? But I'm sure all will be revealed, or at least a little bit of the picture, when the draft is on this week. While we are on the international round, make sure you stop by FIFA women's page to see their December wrap-up, including the 2009 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.

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