Westfield Matildas coach Alen Stajcic believes Australia's win over Japan in an Olympic Games Qualifier over two years ago was a catalyst for his side's development into a world-class outfit.
Australia have beaten Japan in their last two encounters and will be chasing a third when they face the reigning Asian Cup Champions in their final group match on Friday night (AEST).
The Matildas defeated Japan 4-2 at last year's Tournament of Nations and emerged 3-1 winners in a 2016 Olympic Qualifying tournament, a result which sealed Australia's place at the Rio Games.
And it's the victory in 2016 which Stajcic believes helped spark his side's impressive run of form, with Australia now sixth in the world rankings.
“For me, the match at the Olympic Games qualifiers was probably a bigger game (than the Tournament of Nations match) because we played a full-strength team, a team that had played in the World Cup final just six months earlier,” Stajcic said.
“To get a win up that day, against that team at their home ground was a really big momentum shift for our team, mentally, to know that we can compete with Japan and beat Japan.
“There’s a lot of belief and confidence in the team, there’s now also a lot of experience in the team, the last time we played the Asian Cup final against Japan [in 2014] the average age of the team was maybe 21, 22.
“Now it’s 23, 24, and most of the players have now played 50, 60, 70 or more internationals, so there’s a lot more belief and experience in the team and the more we grow together and the more we improve, the stronger we’re going to be.”
Only a win or a draw will guarantee passage to the semi-final for Australia, who will come into the match off the back of an 8-0 thrashing of Vietnam on Wednesday morning (AEST time).
Japan, who are equal on points to Australia, need a similar result to ensure their own passage.
And while wary of Japan's motivation, Stajcic insists his sole focus is ensuring his side executes their game-plan.
“My business is worrying about our team, obviously we look at the opposition on the field but for all the other stuff that’s not our business,” Stajcic said.
“Our business is to make us as good as we can be and ensure everything we can do to have influence in the game we do properly, from preparing pre-match, doing all the analysis, training properly and executing it on match day.
“There’s great rivalry between the two teams, but there’s also great respect and I’m sure we’ll see that play out [on Friday night].
“We need to win the game, our aim is to win the tournament but we know we have a very tough game on our hands.”