Tournament of Nations preview: Westfield Matildas v Japan

The next chapter in the Westfield Matildas’ rivalry with Japan will be written on Friday morning (AEST), when the two meet at the Tournament of Nations.

While the Samurai Blue are playing for nothing more than pride, Alen Stajcic’s side are in the hunt to retain the title they famously won 12 months ago.

READ: Westfield Matildas eyeing "vengeance" against Japan

READ: How the Westfield Matildas can win the Tournament of Nations

But standing in Australia’s way is their main AFC rival, who beat the Westfield Matildas in the Asian Cup final just over three months ago in Jordan.

Here’s all you need to know ahead of the Westfield Matildas’ clash against Japan.

WHERE AND WHEN

Toyota Park, Chicago

Date: Friday, 3 August AEST (Thursday, 2 August local)

Kick-off: 7.45am AEST (4.45pm local)

Broadcast: Live on Fox Sports 505

RECENT MEETINGS

These two nations have already played twice in 2018, both at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan in April, where Japan would ultimately claim bragging rights.

While the 1-1 draw in the group stage saw both nations book their spot at next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the Samurai Blue were crowned Asian champions courtesy of their 1-0 win in the final.

But Australia did beat Japan this time last year at the Tournament of Nations, with Sam Kerr’s stunning hat-trick helping them to a 4-2 triumph, while the Westfield Matildas also won 3-1 in qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

FORM

Their AFC Women’s Asian Cup triumph aside, it’s been a patchy few months for Japan.

While they warmed up for the Tournament of Nations with a 3-1 friendly win over New Zealand in June, their form in the USA over the last week has been disappointing.

They opened the tournament with an entertaining 4-2 loss to the host nation, before backing it up with a 2-1 defeat against Brazil on Monday (AEST) to sit at the foot of the table.

Japan’s record over the last 12 months has seen them lose five matches and draw two of their last 18 encounters since the 2017 Tournament of Nations.

Matildas v Japan

AUSTRALIAN SQUAD NEWS

Stajcic's side are fit and firing ahead of Friday morning's crunch fixture, with the likes of Elise Kellond-Knight set to feature despite carrying picking up a knock in Australia's opening match against Brazil.

Ellie Carpenter will also be fine to play - despite copping a savage falcon in the opening half of the Westfield Matildas 1-1 stalemate with USA.

The teenager was one of Australia's most impressive performers against the world superpower after marshalling American superstar Megan Rapinoe expertly.

Further up the field lies an intriguing line-up dilemma for Stajcic, who will surely be pondering the selection of Lisa De Vanna after the veteran's starring role on Monday morning.

De Vanna came into the starting eleven in place of Kyah Simon for the clash with USA, and could be set for back to back appearances as Australia look to put themselves in pole position for the tournament crown.

JAPAN’S PLAYER TO WATCH

Saki Kumagai: The skipper is one of Japan’s most celebrated players, bringing up her 100th cap at this tournament.

Currently plying her trade with women's powerhouses Lyon, Kumagai is a no-nonsense defender who marshals the rearguard with authority.

She scored the winning penalty in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ final against the United States and led her country to the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup title.

Japanese star Saki Kumagai.

CURRENT WORLD RANKINGS

Australia: 8

Japan: 6

FINAL WORD

A few years ago, Australia might've celebrated a point against USA in any fixture.

But the Westfield Matildas' disappointment following the late equaliser against America showed just how much has changed for the side in the past 12 months.

And although Lindsey Horan's late header could prove to be the telling strike of this years Tournament of Nations, Australia will be intent on consigning that to the past.

If the side can harness any lingering frustrations from Monday morning's last-gasp draw and late defeat to Japan in the Asian Cup Final, the Westfield Matildas have a great chance to cement back to back titles.

They will likely need to beat the Asian heavyweights - a draw or loss against the reigning Asian Cup Champions would leave the door open for either USA or Brazil to claim the prize in the second match on Friday.

However, if both matches later in the week finish level, Australia could still clinch the trophy on goals scored, as long as they finish with more goals scored than USA.

Matildas