There is a major unknown for the Matildas as they embark on their road to the Paris Olympics.
Australia return to action for the first time since their incredible run to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals this week when they face Iran, Philippines and Chinese Taipei in the next round of Olympic Qualifiers in Perth.
Tony Gustavsson’s side need to finish top of their AFC qualifying group to guarantee progression to a two-legged playoff in February, which will be the final phase to determine qualification for the upcoming Olympic Games.
The top-ranked team in each of the three groups will progress to the next round, along with the highest ranked second-placed team.
However, what the Matildas and the rest of the sides still in contention for the Olympics don’t know is who they will play in the next round, should they progress.
WATCH DUB ZONE BELOW FOR A FULL RECAP OF ROUND 2
“What we don’t know is who it will be against, if Japan and say China or South Korea top their group. It could be one of those two until further notice,” A-Leagues commentator Teo Pellizzeri said on Dub Zone.
“We don’t know if it’s seeded. We don’t know if it’s a random draw, so you can imagine, come February the 24th and 28th, it could be two legs against China. It could be two legs against South Korea or really worryingly, it could be two legs against Japan, which would be a pretty daunting prospect to try and get through to the Olympic Games.”
A-Leagues legend Teresa Polias asked: “Will we know by time it starts next week?”
Pelizzeri responded: “The AFC need to communicate this to the competing teams. I have asked multiple layers of the game about what the rules of competition are and everyone’s in the dark.
“They don’t know if they need to go out and score 10 goals a game to be the top seed. They don’t know if it’s going to be a random draw and we’re a 33% chance of getting Japan now.
“I’m assuming we’re going to win all three games in order to make this, but I think the team in their preparation would also like to know ahead of time.”
“That’s astounding,” Polias said.
Host Niav Owens responded: “Do we know, though, that out of Japan, China and Australia, only two of those teams can make it to the Olympics?”
“It’s a tough competition. We saw the World Cup expand to 32 teams and that was great. The Olympics isn’t expanding.
“The Olympics is still a very tight bottleneck to get in.”
Gustavssson has named a settled squad for the upcoming qualifiers, with only Kyah Simon and Aivi Luik dropping out of the group who went deep at the World Cup and Amy Sayer coming in.
Brighton & Hove Albion’s Charlie Rule has been named as a train-on player.
Polias sees the benefits of naming a settled squad, but believes it could change by the time the February qualifiers roll around, especially when more Liberty A-League players get more minutes in their legs.
“I have thought back and forth about this and the concept of a refresh, but I can understand why Tony Gustavsson has gone for a similar squad to to the World Cup squad,” Polias said.
“I mean, foreign competitions have just commenced. The A-League has just commenced. So in terms of form, we’re yet to see anything different or much from players.
“But I think by the time we hit the the February two legged playoffs I think players absolutely should be picked on the form they’ve been in.”
Pellizzeri added: “That international window in February falls after Round 17 of the Liberty A-League, so we’ll have more than three quarters of the season.
“Players like Chloe Logarzo, Emily Gielnik, Elise Kellond-Knight who aren’t in this particular squad will all have their chance.
“Never mind the new faces that might emerge, so stay with the squad for now but we’ve still got 15 more rounds of Liberty A-League before the next international window after this one.”