April 12, 2003
Ninety minutes lie between Qantas Matildas and World Cup berth
By Janene Mar
After a week of double-figure victories over the developing nations of Oceania in the OFC World Cup Qualifying Tournament, tomorrow's last match against New Zealand presents something altogether different for the Qantas Matildas in their quest to qualify for their third consecutive World Cup finals tournament.
As expected, the identity of Oceania's single representative for this World Cup in China comes down to the ninety minutes of tomorrow night's battle royale between old foes Australia and New Zealand.
On paper, the Qantas Matildas are the favourites on several scores. Australia has qualified for the last two World Cups and since competed in the Olympic Games, whilst New Zealand has not played in the World Cup since the inaugural event of 1991. Coming into this tournament, Australia had played 48 internationals since the last Qualifiers in 1998, compared to New Zealand’Äôs five. The Australians have defeated the Kiwis in their last eight clashes stretching back to October 1994. This week, Australia has scored 43 goals, whilst New Zealand put away 29 goals.
However, with so much at stake, write off New Zealand at your peril. They may not have recently enjoyed the opportunities and success of their trans-Tasman rivals over the past eight years, but that fact only goes to steel their resolve even further. The proud and passionate Swanz are guaranteed to be extremely fired up for this winner-takes-all clash, and anything can happen in football.
Qantas Matildas captain Cheryl Salisbury did not show any indication of the pressure of the situation presenting a burden upon the team. "In any sport there is great rivalry between Australia and New Zealand,’" she said. "That is what makes these games so fantastic, especially for the spectators. A lot of our team have not played in a World Cup or Qualifiers before but we know we have the ability to win and we will go out there and make the dream come true."
New Zealand skipper Rebecca Smith was not giving too much away on her team's plans for the game. "We have not really gone into specifics about any of the Australian players," Smith said. "We are focusing on what we need to do. We shall play our game and do our best and see what happens at the end of the day."
A draw against the Swanz will prove sufficient for Australia to secure their ticket to China 2003 thanks to their superior goal difference over their opponents of 14 goals. New Zealand must win if they are to claim the berth as their own.