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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

FIFA Women's World Cup 2023: The Australian connections from Group A to D

For the first time, the Australasian football landscape can proudly say it is hosting a FIFA World Cup.


From that faithful day in June 2020, when the decision was finalised by the FIFA committee, until now, at the dawn of the tournament, a lot has transpired, particularly within the teams taking the pitch on Australian shores and calling their cities home.


Front Page Football has curated a list of ten teams Australian football fans should watch, given their hidden, sometimes not so discreet, connection to the country.


Whether through a stint in a playing career at an Australian club or through the assistance of hardworking and well-known individuals in the Australian game, FPF looks at the connections in five teams from Group A to D.


Group A: Philippines

The Philippines are preparing for their first ever Women's World Cup. (Ted Aljibe/AFP)


We start close to home with the familiar face of Alen Stajcic and his heavily Australian-influenced Philippines side, who have largely come from the American college system, having played friendlies and been based in California before the Asian Cup in 2022. The Philippines have largely prepared for their debut World Cup appearance in Sydney.


The particular swath of Australian-based or Australian-born talent set to call the team camp in Auckland home for the tournament's duration is vital to understanding the Filipinas.


Sarina Bolden, a key figure in rejuvenating the Western Sydney Wanderers 2022/23 season, will start as the Philippines' striker. She has many Australian-based players to call upon for support, including Malea Cesar of Blacktown City, Jaclyn Sawicki of Western United, Anicka Castañeda of Mount Druitt Town Rangers, and the biggest name, Western defender and former Matilda Angie Beard.


There are also other players adopted from the American collegiate system in the squad, such as Kiara Fontanilla of the Central Coast Mariners, who joined the NPL and A-Leagues ranks all thanks to the current sphere of influence created by Stajcic. The connection might make the national team more successful in future years.


Group A: New Zealand

New Zealand have a squad consisting of several players plying their trade in the A-League Women. (FIFA)


Even closer to home are the tournament co-hosts, whose Czech manager Jitka Klimková won the then W-League Championship in 2011/12 with an ever-successful Canberra United squad.


Additionally, the A-League Women's has massively driven the success within New Zealand's current set-up. Including a Wellington Phoenix women's team from the 2021/22 season played a large part in this connection. However, the seven Australian-based players are the ones to watch on this team.


Hannah Wilkinson and Katie Bowen will be very familiar to Melbourne City fans, whilst Melbourne Victory's Claudia Bunge and Auckland-born Wanderer Malia Steinmetz should see minutes. The ever-reliable Grace Jale continues the Canberra United connections at the tournament, with Brisbane Roar forward Indiah-Paige Riley and Perth Glory defender Liz Anton also amongst the Kiwi ranks.


With Australian clubs represented around the squad, honouring the country's co-hosting duties, it would be remiss for Australian football fans not to take an interest in the Football Ferns, especially when their success helps the Australian game and A-League Women exponentially.


Group B: Canada

Canada pose as the Matildas' biggest threat in Group B. (Alex Rodriguez)


The main point of note with Canada, who are expected to be the Matildas' fierce Group B rivals, is their midfielder of Italian heritage, Julia Grosso.


She has amassed 50 caps with the Canadian national team by age 22, which has already been very fruitful, having scored the winning penalty in the Gold Medal match at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021.


The Australian connection here lies in Grosso's domestic endeavours, having been an important cog in the wheel driving the ongoing successes of Australian manager Joe Montemurro at Italian giants Juventus.


Grosso, given the experience accumulated at her age, took like a duck to water in Turin, having been named the Midfielder of the Year in the Serie A Femminile for 2022/23 after 20 appearances and three goals.


She is certainly one to look out for. Australians can be proud that she has become a world-beating product under the guidance of one of their own.


Group C: Costa Rica

Costa Rica will face Japan, Spain, and Zambia in Group C. (AFP)


Costa Rica's Raquel Rodríguez, a native of San Jose, formed an unlikely pairing and created a notable career influence in 2017 when she moved to Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. Her forward partner became Sam Kerr, and the two enjoyed a fruitful time together, leading the club to success in the NWSL. But the partnership didn't end there.


When the then-American winter rolled around, Rodríguez was offered to play in Kerr's native Western Australia with Perth Glory. This move ultimately failed, with the Costa Rican failing to score across nine appearances. But it led to her having the honour of being the W-League's first-ever Central American import.


Should Costa Rica find a route to success in an otherwise stacked Group C, Rodríguez may etch her name into World Cup history and become one that many West Australian fans can look back on and admire, knowing her connections with the Glory and Kerr.

 

READ MORE WOMEN'S FOOTBALL CONTENT ON FPF


Group D: Denmark

Denmark will face China, England, and Haiti in Group D. (Maja Hitij)


The Sam Kerr connections don't stop with Rodríguez, with recently departed Chelsea striker and all-round star of the women's game Pernille Harder set to lead her country at this World Cup.


Setting up camp in Perth will undoubtedly be a relaxing change from the many cold nights in the Women's Super League for Harder, who moved to Bayern Munich with Sweden's Magdalena Eriksson, leaving Kerr without a strike partner, which the Australian will certainly worry about at the tournament's conclusion.


Another connection to Montemurro's Juventus is within the Danish ranks through Sofie Junge Pedersen. The defensive midfielder has just concluded a five-year stint with Juve, having made 91 appearances. Like Harder, she has left her Australian connection behind before heading to the World Cup.


However, there is no doubt Kerr and Montemurro have given their fair share of advice on how the Danish duo can spend their time down under during the tournament.

 

We all know how big an occasion this World Cup on Australian cities and shores will be. Prouder is the knowledge that some visitors have an overwhelming and likely sentimental connection to the country. A team like the Philippines, which is heavily influenced and has many players in the Australian system, will help the country's domestic scene. What will also help is having an interconnected football world showcasing their quality here and building connections within Australian football.


This World Cup, as does this series, will throw up many teams with an Australian bond. Keep an eye on Front Page Football for more Women's World Cup content in the coming days and weeks, with part two of the series covering Group E to H coming soon.


Click here to read more about Australian football's links to the world game overseas!

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