Matildas ready to continue Olympics quest

The wait is almost over for Matildas coach Ante Milicic and defender Alanna Kennedy.
The wait is almost over for Matildas coach Ante Milicic and defender Alanna Kennedy.

If everything had gone as planned, the Matildas would be returning to their respective homes on Saturday.

Instead, after a tumultuous build-up that included a hasty change of continent, Australia will finally begin their next phase of qualifying for the Olympic Games on Friday.

Ante Milicic's Matildas face Taiwan at Campbelltown Sports Stadium in a double-header that includes Thailand taking on an embattled China outfit.

It is the first of a re-jigged six-day schedule for the hosts that includes matches against the Thais on Monday, and then the Chinese on Thursday.

"We've been in camp now for over two weeks and if the tournament went as scheduled, it would be finishing in two days," Milicic said on Thursday.

"We had to adjust things on the run.

But at the same time, we've prepared for it as much as possible.

"We've been really pleased with the way the girls have responded to the difficult circumstances."

Despite recently returning to full training, captain and superstar Sam Kerr is unlikely to play due to a quadriceps injury.

Asked if it would be a risk to play Kerr, Milicic said: "Yeah I think so.

"We'll know a lot more of that, how she pulls up after (Thursday session because she's been carrying this injury now for a while."

Australia, ranked No.7 in the world, are expected to finish top two in Group B and progress to a home-and-away playoff against a Group A opponent next month.

It's why Milicic, who also said midfielder Tameka Yallop has all but but been ruled out of Friday's clash with a calf issue, is playing the long game with his best player Kerr.

"You can't look at any of our players in a one-off game," he said.

"We've got this tournament, hopefully then in March we're in the play-off games as well.

"We wouldn't want to put any player at risk.

"And at the same time, our duty is, at the end of this tournament, that they go back to their clubs in a good physical state where they're available."

Taiwan, the world No.40, edged Thailand, who are ranked two spots above them, 1-0 on Monday.

"You don't realise unless you follow them closely, how much they can improve in the last few years," Milicic said.

"Very organised team, disciplined also. (They) will be hard to break down."

Australian Associated Press