Familiar foes enter the Dragon
© AFP

Ghana might be the lowest-ranked of the 16 teams competing at China 2007 but it is their opening opponents who go into Wednesday's match facing the competition's most damning statistic. Australia certainly need no reminding that they approach their tenth FIFA Women's World Cup match without a victory in any of their first nine, and an added incentive for ending this record sequence is that two of those winless encounters have come against the team they will face in the Hangzhou Dragon Stadium.

The history between these sides was created at the 1999 and 2003 showpieces, and their current squads show no fewer then 14 survivors - seven on each side - from Ghana's 2-1 victory at the latter tournament. Five of those were also involved in a 1-1 draw four years earlier, when a sweltering summer afternoon in Boston ended with both sides claiming their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup point.

Goalkeeper Memunatu Sulemana, captain Adjoa Bayor, and Lydia Ankrah, a late substitute, all represented the Black Queens in both matches, while Cheryl Salisbury and Diane Alagich are the Australians eagerly looking forward to round three. Both Matildas are in no doubt that their nation's miserable FIFA Women's World Cup history is in need of an urgent rewrite, and neither can see any better way of beginning this process than by making it third time unlucky for their African nemesis.

"We're all feeling pretty confident," Alagich told FIFA.com. "They're a tough team to play against, as we know from '99 and '03, but we feel we're a lot stronger and better equipped to face them this time. In 2003, we told ourselves we could win but I'm not sure we really believed it. Now we definitely believe."

'Ghana had a better attitude'
Salisbury is in full agreement, although the long-serving skipper knows from bitter experience that anything less than a performance of guile, grit and guts from Tom Sermanni's side will see their winless streak stretch into double figures. When we first played against them back in '99, we were very young as a women's football nation," she recalled. "So we didn't know what to expect. But in 2003 we should have done a lot better.

"As it was, we went into the game, I wouldn't say half-hearted, but certainly very deflated because by that stage we knew that we needed a miracle to qualify. Whatever the reasons, the fact is we went out against Ghana not giving 100 per cent, I don't think there's any doubt about that. And we were punished for it. They went into the game with a better attitude, I think they were just desperate to win a game at a World Cup, and they deserved it. For the first 20, 30 minutes, they just came at us and we didn't have the energy or commitment to compete with them.

"It took a bit of yelling at half-time to get people's minds on turning things around, but by that point we were already 2-0 down. We scored one and put a lot of pressure on, but we'd left it too late. The way we started the game killed us. Personally, I think it's great we're playing Ghana first at this tournament, and hopefully we can get that monkey off our backs. I don't think the statistics we have reflect the ability of our team at all, but it's obviously up to us to put them right."

Paha backs on-song Queens
While Salisbury and Aligach agree that anything less than three points on Wednesday will constitute failure, the Black Queens go into the game on the back of seven straight victories and are understandably confident of preserving their unbeaten status in this fixture. Coach Isaac Paha certainly believes that his self-assured squad can only draw further encouragement from their historical advantage over a side who clearly hold no fears.

"The 2003 victory has been mentioned, yes, and it should give our players confidence," the former captain and coach of Ghana's men's team told FIFA.com. "I think they are already confident anyway, that comes from the number of matches we have been winning recently and the progress we have been making. But the fact we have beaten our opponents before could certainly be one factor in our favour. I haven't seen much of this current Australia team but I have watched them on video - and I am confident we can match them."

All will be decided in the belly of Hangzhou's Dragon.