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    Tuesday, July 18, 2023

    Ireland Preparing for Difficult Debut in Women’s World Cup Opener Against Co-Host Australia

    Overwhelming demand for tickets meant co-host Australia’s opening match at the Women’s World Cup had to be shifted to the tournament’s biggest stadium, where it’s set to be played in front of an expected record crowd of 82,500.

    Stepping into that cauldron to face the Matildas on Thursday is Ireland, on debut at the World Cup and playing in its first major global tournament.

    “We feel like underdogs and we embrace it,” Ireland forward Marissa Sheva said. “I think it gives us a little bit of energy and we know the pressure is not on us, it’s on them for this game.”

    The match was initially scheduled for a smaller downtown stadium but had to be switched to Stadium Australia, at Sydney Olympic Park, which is also the venue for the Aug. 20 final.

    “Ever since they moved stadiums we knew that it was going to be a massive crowd,” Sheva said. “Having the opening game of the tournament against the hosts is an incredible opportunity.”

    The hype around Sam Kerr and the Matildas has been growing Down Under as the countdown to the tournament Australia is co-hosting with New Zealand gets closer to kick off.

    The Matildas beat France 1-0 in a friendly played in front of a record 50,629 fans in Melbourne last week.

    The previous record crowd for a Matildas match in Australia was 36,109, set in November 2021 in a loss to the United States at Stadium Australia.

    Ireland manager Vera Pauw recognizes the challenge for her squad, but she is emphasizing the importance of her team sticking to its game plan.

    “Of course it’s not an ordinary game, but we have to bring it back to the tasks of the game,” Pauw said. “At the end of the day, it’s the same pitch dimensions as we have back home.”

    Pauw’s squad upset Australia 3-2 in a friendly in Dublin in 2021 in the only previous meeting between the teams at the senior level. Louise Quinn, a starting defender on Ireland’s World Cup roster, scored the winning goal on a second-half header.

    “I think we’ve shown that we are capable of competing with the top teams in the world, so this should be no exception,” Sheva said.

    In April, Ireland played two friendlies against the U.S. team, losing 2-0 in Austin, Texas, and 1-0 in St. Louis, Missouri, to the back-to-back defending Women’s World Cup champions. The U.S. enters this World Cup as the top-ranked team and the tournament favorite.

    The Irish hosted fifth-ranked France in a friendly earlier this month, keeping the game scoreless for nearly a half before losing 3-0.

    “We prepared by playing the best, so we’re ready to do that here,” Sheva said. “We know that Australia is world-class so we’re going to get their best game.”

    Australia is 10th in FIFA’s rankings, and fans in the host country are confident the Matildas will advance to the knockout stages.

    “We’re ready and confident to give them a game,” Sheva said. “They’re in good form, but so are we.” -AP

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