As the Matildas prepare to learn their opponents in next year’s World Cup, two-time winner Carli Lloyd says Australia face an uphill battle to contend for the title on home soil. Fifa’s top brass, led by president Gianni Infantino, and coaches from around the globe are assembling in Auckland for Saturday’s draw.
As hosts for the 2023 tournament, Australia and New Zealand enjoy the benefit of top seeding, meaning they will avoid the world’s top sides until the knockout phase. Lloyd, who counted Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson as an assistant when the USA claimed the last two World Cups, said Australia had work to do to be contenders.
“I sense they’re trying to still figure things out,” she said. “I’m not really quite sure what’s been going on there. Obviously Tony was one of our assistant coaches for a number of years within our squad.
“I haven’t really seen them at their best. So they’ve got this 10 months going in to try to sort that out. The Matildas always have that that fighting spirit so they’re going to be challenging.”
Lloyd is in Auckland as one of the draw conductors, along with former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright – who said Arsenal forward Caitlin Foord may be Australia’s ticket to success.
“She’s playing unbelievably,” Wright said. “You’ve got a few players in that 27-year-old bracket, Sam Kerr, [Hayley] Raso, and Caitlin Foord … they can get the vibe of the of the crowd and the fact that it’s a home nations. You’ve got to suck that up and try and use that. That’s what you’re hoping for.”
Lloyd will be joined by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, swimming great Cate Campbell and a host of football royalty for Saturday night’s draw. Teams have been placed according to their Fifa ranking in four pots, with one team from each pot to drawn into eight groups.
The key for Australia, in pot one, will be avoiding the toughest teams in pot two. As the Matildas cannot be drawn against another Asian team, the remaining options are fraught with danger.
Canada are the Olympic champions, the Netherlands have beaten Australia 3-0 and 5-0 in their last two friendly meetings, Brazil are perennial challengers, and Italy caused a sensation at the last World Cup by beating the Matildas in their group. That leaves Norway, who exited this year European Championships at the group stage, as Australia’s best outcome – but just a one-in-five chance.
Lloyd said the tournament shaped as an open affair given the USA, two-time reigning champions, are in “transition”, nominating European champions England, and Spain as the biggest threats.
“For England, it’s going to be a matter of ’can they continue that momentum coming in’,” she said. “Winning anything back to back is hard. So that’s going to be their biggest test.”
The 32-team lineup will be complete after a New Zealand-hosted playoff tournament featuring 10 teams in February. Fifa will publish the schedule and playing times for each match shortly after the draw.