Group C Preview: Matildas are knocking on the door

After failing to win a game in its first three trips to the Women's World Cup, Australia has reached the quarterfinals the last three times and enter the 2019 finals as one of six seeded teams.

Group C:
Australia (6)
Brazil (10)
Italy (15)
Jamaica (53)
Note: In parentheses is FIFA ranking (as of March 29).

The Matildas signaled their emergence as title challengers when they beat the USA, 1-0, and won the 2017 Tournament of Nations. They certainly have the talent to make a deep run in France.

Their star is 2017 NWSL MVP and 2017 and 2018 NWSL scoring champion Sam Kerr. At 25, this is already the third World Cup for Kerr, who failed to score in eight games in 2011 and 2015. She has gone on a scoring rampage since the 2017 Tournament of Nations, beginning with a hat trick in the 4-2 win over Japan. Her production: eight goals in 50 games before the inaugural edition of the U.S. Soccer tournament; 23 goals in 27 games since then.

Kerr says her mindset has changed since her struggles at the 2015 World Cup in Canada and insists the Matildas are more than just her.

"I just want to lift that World Cup trophy, whether I score 10 goals or no goals," she told AAP on the eve of the tournament. "If I take two defenders away into the corner and Caitlin Foord, Lisa De Vanna or Emily van Egmond runs on for a tap-in, I've done my part."

You should be pulling for ... At 41, Brazilian midfielder Formiga is set to play in her record seventh World Cup, breaking the record -- men or women -- she shares with retired Japan star Homare Sawa. The Paris St. Germain midfielder holds the record of having played in six Olympic women's soccer competitions -- all six since it was first introduced at the 1996 Olympics.

You'll soon find out all about ... Khadija "Bunny" Shaw grew up in a family of 13 children in Spanish Town, Jamaica's capital and Kingston's poor neighbor, and she convinced one of her brothers to teach her how to juggle the ball. She became so good at it that her mother, who didn't want her to play soccer, allowed her to join her brothers at practice. She was called into her first national team camp when she was in seventh grade. She enrolled at a Florida JC, Eastern Florida State College, in 2015 and later played at the University of Tennessee, where she blossomed into one of college soccer's best players. But she often thought about returning home, having lost three brothers and one nephew to gang-related violence, one brother in a car accident and another cousin electrocuted on a soccer field. Shaw was largely responsible for Jamaica qualifying for the Women's World Cup for the first time with 19 of the Reggae Girlz's 35 goals in qualifying  and six of their 10 goals in five warm-up games.

Record book ... 16. Australian Mary Fowler’s age will make her the fifth-youngest player in Women’s World Cup history if she plays. The youngest are Nigerian Ifeanyi Chiejine (1999), Mexican Monica Vergara (1999), New Zealander Annalie Longo (2007) and Russian Elena Danilova (2003), all 16 when they played.

Progress report ... Italy was one of the first European countries to embrace women's soccer -- the first U.S. women's national team games were at a tournament in Jesolo in 1985 -- but this is the Azzurre's first appearance in the finals in 20 years. Only in recent years have Serie A's big clubs started to invest in women's programs. Juventus launched its women's team in 2017 and has won back-to-back league titles. It drew a record crowd of 39,027 fans at Allianz Stadium for a top-of-the-table class with Fiorentina in March. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli is reviewing plans to build a stadium -- 3,500-5,000 seats -- for the women who usually have to travel to Novara (30 miles from Turin) or Alessandria (50 miles away) to play home games.

Sunday, June 9
7 am Australia-Italy FS1, Telemundo
9:30 am Brazil-Jamaica FS1, Telemundo
Thursday, June 13
Noon Australia-Brazil Fox, Universo
Friday, June 14
Noon Jamaica-Italy Fox, Universo
Tuesday, June 18
3 pm Italy-Brazil FS1, Universo
3 pm Jamaica-Australia FS2, Telemundo Deportes en Vivo
Note: All time ET.

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