Westfield Matildas boss Alen Stajcic believes his side are far better prepared heading into the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup than they were for the corresponding tournament four years ago.
The Matildas spent two weeks together at a training camp in Perth which included a dominant 5-0 friendly win over Thailand in a friendly a fortnight ago.
Prior to that, Australia played four matches in nine days at February’s Algarve Cup in Portugal, with several players given an opportunity at the friendly tournament.
And the team have spent the past week in Jordan acclimitasing to the conditions ahead of their opening group match against Korea Republic on Sunday morning (AEST).
Australia were beaten by Japan in the 2014 Asian Cup Final but Stajcic believes his maturing team are a different proposition this time around.
“Over the last three or four years our team has come a long way. We’ve certainly matured as a team together both me as a coach and the playing group. We’ve certainly developed a lot more consistency maturity and professionalism on and off the field,” Stajcic said at the pre-match press conference.
“We've developed a great staff that support our group. So when I look back to 4 years ago you know the coach had just being sacked a month before the Asian Cup. Now we’re so much more prepared. It is such a tighter unit than what it was.
“Back then our players averaged maybe 20-21 coming into the tournament. Now we average 24-25 and probably each player on average [has] 60-70 caps per player.
“We've got so many players now playing in the professional league in America. We’ve got so many playing in Europe and we’ve got a really good strong domestic league which is supporting our players so they’ve got a lot of things in our favour.
“The challenge for us is we are in an extremely difficult group. Our expectations are very high from the public but our internal expectations are much higher than the public’s.
“We set a goal many years ago that we want to be one of the best teams in the world and we want to come to tournaments and be a real challenger.
“And I think teams see us as that now - a real challenge…”
Australia head into the 2018 edition as warm favourites after rising to sixth in the FIFA world rankings after a spectacular 12 months in which the team won eight consecutive matches.
And while the Matildas are set to be a huge focus, Stajcic paid tribute to the immense talent on show at the tournament across all the competing nations.
“We have some talented players on the field tomorrow night and I think it's something that the AFC should be very proud of that we’ve got some of the best players in the world here at this tournament,” Stajcic said.
“When you look at Sam Kerr who's now one of the best players in the world and probably unlucky not to be nominated in the FIFA player of the year last year.
“You’ve got Ji (So Yun) who’s playing for Chelsea and probably Chelsea’s best player and they’re in the Semi-Finals of the Champions League.
“There’s so many good players. (Saki) Kumagai who plays for Lyon. Certainly this tournament is packed with some of the best players in the world.
“I think it’s something we should celebrate as a confederation. We really should appreciate how much talent there is here in Asia. When you combine all the countries together you could put one amazing talented team together.
“That's the best part about this competition I think that that the AFC is one of the strongest Confederations in women's football and for that reason it's a tough competition.
“They (Korea Republic) have Ji but there's also so many other good players in the Korean team and the Japanese team and the Chinese team and all the other teams.
“As I said before, we should really celebrate these fantastic players and you know we certainly respect each other and we know that it's going to be a tough tournament.
“But our expectations are very high and I'm sure like everyone else we want to come here and win the tournament and that's the goal that we’ve set for ourselves.”