China 2007 is the first FIFA Women's World Cup in which Australia have competed under the banner of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and the Matildas, as they're often better known, are justifiably confident of improving on disappointing previous showings at this level.

With three separate FIFA Women's World Cup appearances behind them - in 1995, 1999 and 2003 - they are veritable tournament veterans, and by reaching this edition ahead of the likes of Japan, Korea DPR and Korea Republic, Tom Sermanni's team have confounded the critics who claimed their presence at previous editions was due merely to the weakness of the Oceanic football scene.

Under Sermanni, who returned to the job in 2005 after an eight-year exile, the Matildas have at their disposal a talented, athletic and settled squad of players who, with every passing tournament, continue to progress on a steady upwards trajectory.

Still leading from the front is their evergreen skipper and talisman, Cheryl Salisbury, holder of the team's appearance and goals records and, at 33, still calling the tune from the heart of Sermanni's defence.

Sermanni also seems to have successfully struck that all-important balance between youth and experience, with youngsters such as Sally Shipard, Collette McCallum and Kylie Ledbrook - all of whom took part in the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 - all effectively assured of their places on the plane for China.

The Matildas' main problem remains that, unlike many of their main rivals at China 2007, they do not have a national women's league in which to gain experience and maintain year-round match sharpness, although Saliisbury remains confident that this is a hurdle which can be overcome.

"I think we certainly have the potential to win a World Cup," the captain has said. "We have the potential to beat any team out there and our results have certainly indicated that we can do that."

Qualification
With a formidable Asian field competing for just two automatic slots available to the AFC, Australia knew that only a place in the final of their inaugural AFC Women's Asian Cup in July of last year would guarantee a ticket to China.

They did, however, have home advantage, and roared on by a partisan Adelaide crowd, they set the tone for the tournament as early as their opening match with an emphatic 4-0 win over Korea Republic.

Qualification for the latter stages was subsequently secured with victories over Thailand and Myanmar, plus a draw with Korea DPR, and though Japan were expected to offer a tougher test in the semi-finals, goals from Joanne Peters and Caitlin Munoz secured a 2-0 win later described by Sermanni as "the most significant of my career".

A place in the FIFA Women's World Cup was by now assured, and it was only after Australia had raced into a shock 2-0 half-time lead in the final against China PR that the Steel Roses battled back to draw 2-2 and win 4-2 on penalties, thanks largely to the heroics of substitute goalkeeper Zhang Yanru.

Coach
Tom Sermanni is currently in his second stint at the Matildas' helm having led the team between 1994 and 1997, years which included an appearance at the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup in Sweden.

The early part of the Scot's playing career was spent in his home country and England, but he moved Down Under to join Marconi in 1983 and his coaching career began during a seven-year spell with Canberra Cosmos between 1984 and 1991, with Sermanni's reputation developing sufficiently swiftly to earn him the job of Australia's women's coach in 1994.

When that first spell ended three years later, he was lured to the US to take charge of San Jose CyberRays and New York Power in the former United States Women's Professional Soccer League, where he was named as one of league's top three coaches.

However, in 2005, and via a brief spell in Malaysia, he returned to the Australian helm and, after leading to the team to the final of the Asian Women's Cup and on to the FIFA Women's World Cup, Sermanni faces his biggest challenge yet.

FIFA Women's World Cup history:

  • Australia failed to qualify for the first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 1991.

  • At the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup in Sweden, Australia qualified but then lost all three of their group matches, finishing bottom of a section that also included Denmark, China and the USA.

  • At the 1999 Women's World Cup USA, Australia claimed their first-ever point at the tournament with a draw against Ghana, but again crashed out after losing their remaining group games 3-1 to both Sweden and China.

  • The Matildas fared little better in 2003, going down to surprise defeats to both Ghana and Russia before drawing with group favourites China in their farewell match.

What they said...
"Like they said with the Socceroos (at Germany 2006), we won't just be going to make up numbers - we want to put a stamp on the World Cup and go for top three placings. We want to strive to be the best in the world and hold up that trophy at the end of the tournament," Australia goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.