Former footballer and Channel 7 commentator Grace Gill has talked up the wonderful FIFA Women’s World Cup so far and outlined how the Matildas can beat their next opponents, Denmark.
With record-breaking crowds and predicted champions crashing out in the group stages, the tournament has brought its fair share of excitement.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Matildas waltz to victory over Canada.
Watch every Matildas FIFA Women’s World Cup™ match live and free on 7plus >> or stream all matches on Optus Sport >>
7NEWS.com.au spoke to Gill on Friday, ahead of the Aussies do-or-die clash on Monday.
“It’s been crazy, but in all the best ways possible,” Gill told 7NEWS.com.au
“I don’t think anyone quite anticipated the chaos that we’re seeing … crowd numbers in particular have, to my understanding, far exceeded expectations.
The Matildas are preparing to face Denmark on Monday in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Round of 16 Credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
“I think there was a real groundswell ahead of this Women’s World Cup, particularly for the Matildas, but I don’t think we quite saw the engagement for other nations in a way that we have.
“The product has been really good, the tournament has expanded to 32 teams now, and I think there was some reservations about how the quality would be around those particularly lower ranked nations, but what it’s done is completely hit it out of the park – the football we’re seeing is world-class.
World Cup shock after No.2 is KO’d and outsider does unthinkable
Big Sam Kerr fitness clue drops ahead of World Cup showdown
“When you’ve got a product that is that fun to watch and is that entertaining and there’s these amazing stories around these women who are marketable, that’s a very, very easy thing to want to get around.”
Gill says the storytelling around the tournament has helped people find a human element to connect with the game.
“So many people would have known who Sam Kerr was coming into this tournament, but now the fact that there’s these other names not just from the Matildas but other nations as well, that people will say, ‘wow, did you know that this player (Linda Caicedo) from Colombia is 18 years old? She’s overcome ovarian cancer, and she’s got to be one of the best players in the world.’”
The results have been nothing short of completely unpredictable, none more so than Australia’s shock 3-2 loss to Nigeria in the group stage.
Triumphantly clawing their way back to book a spot in the Round of 16 after defeating Olympic champions Canada on Monday, the Aussies aren’t the only ones who have been on the receiving end of a shock result.
World No.2 ranked Germany crashed out to miss the knockout phase for the first time, after South Korea held them to a 1-1 draw.
Meanwhile, Morocco, who lost the opening match to Germany 6-0, stunned the world and made it through after their surprise 1-0 win over Colombia.
Morocco players celebrate as their team advances in the World Cup, while Germany players are devastated after they were knocked out. Credit: Getty Images
“I didn’t predict that at all – I think I would have been with the vast majority of football fans in the community that would have looked at that group and said, Yeah, Germany’s going to top that group,” Gill said.
“The fact that that group has been flipped on its head I think has surprised everyone in the best way possible, because to have these lower ranked nations be able to just turn on its head footballing giants completely changes the narrative around this World Cup.”
When asked why the tournament has been so packed with surprising results, Gill said the reason is layered.
“In part, it is the fact that these huge footballing nations have been on the world stage for as long as they have, so they’re very visible … the statistics and data around their team has been long-standing, and they can be assessed really thoroughly,” she said.
“What we’re seeing in the way of results and the Matildas included, is that more often than not, the teams that are getting wins are teams that are able to defend their lives.
“It’s not so much about attacking on the front foot, although we are seeing that, too – but teams that have lesser possession in games are winning, so I think it’s about defensive structures.
“It’s about scouting against key players, how to nullify their threats … I think that’s what we saw from Morocco and, to a degree, the Matildas against Canada – they they were dominant. They had a wonderful performance against Canada, but they had just shy of 40 per cent possession, so this is not a possession-based style of football that is picking teams apart.”
Gill notes that the exception to this rule is Japan who “are flying under the radar,” something which may actually be a gift.
“Teams like Germany, Brazil, Canada, and USA have a huge target on their back when it comes to world football, so they carry a huge weight of expectation. Whereas these lower ranked nations coming in for the debut World Cup, they come in with absolutely no expectation,” she said.
The underdog mentality has long been analysed in professional sporting codes, but Gill says that the mental side of the tournament “cannot be emphasised strongly enough.”
“Whether that’s pressure, expectation, belief, whatever word you want to use to describe that feeling around a team or a team’s expectation- it has to be so carefully balanced.
“It’s so important to success and to responding to situations that don’t go your way, so to use the Matildas as an example, the loss to Nigeria was completely unexpected, so I think then what becomes more important than anything else is how a group collectively stays together and responds to that situation.”
Hayley Raso scored two of the 4 goals which lked Australia to Vcitory over Canada to secure their place in the konckout stages of the FIFA Womens World Cup. Credit: Will Murray/Getty Images
Looking ahead to the Monday night’s clash against Denmark, Gill said the results have helped the Aussies avoid “some really sticky points that we anticipated.”
“So for the Matildas, the initial step was to avoid England in the round of 16 and we’ve done that, and now we’re facing Denmark, which is a team we have faced before under Tony Gustavsson, and we’ve beaten them as well, so we’re familiar with the opposition.
“The most important part of the Matildas going into for me is capturing the right balance of mentality going into this game because, similar to the game against Canada, this is an all on the line moment.
“We know that in a Round a 16 you can’t draw, you have to go on whether it’s extra time or penalties, you have to find a result in these matches and that’s important because we know that they do well under pressure.”
Mel McLaughlin and broadcasting legend Bruce McAvaney are leading Seven’s coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with expert insight from Elise Kellond-Knight, Heather Garriock and more. Watch the Matildas and other key matches live and free on 7plus.
Women’s World Cup state of play: 16 teams chasing ultimate prize
Former Matildas boss set for ‘interesting’ coaching role
If you’d like to view this content, please adjust your Cookie Settings.