- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) - Lack of self-confidence clearly isn’t an issue for coach Alen Stajcic despite Australia’s previous lack of Women’s World Cup success.

Fresh off Australia’s first victory in an elimination game, Stajcic brashly proclaimed Friday that the 10th-ranked Matildas aren’t scared of anyone. And that includes defending champion Japan, who the Aussies will face in the quarterfinals Saturday.

“I don’t think it’s false bravado. I think it’s based on ability,” Stajcic told The Associated Press following a news conference.

“You’ve seen us play. Everyone’s seen us play,” he added, before outlining how the Australians made it through the so-called Group of Death, and then knocked off Brazil in the Round of 16 last weekend. “When you know you can dominate teams in the top five in the world, why should you fear anyone else?”

It’s a bold statement coming from a first-year coach of a 10th-ranked team that had gone 0-7-2 in its first three World Cup appearances before winning its first game.

Stajcic’s confidence is fueled by Australia’s familiarity with its regional rivals after going 0-1-1 against Japan in the Asian Cup last year, including a 1-0 loss in the final.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for their team,” Stajcic said. “But in saying that, we’ve dealt with it before, and they’re going to have to deal with some of our strengths as well.”

Japanese coach Norio Sasaki is impressed by the growth Australia has shown under Stajcic, who took over a year ago.

That said, the fourth-ranked Nadeshiko also are on a roll.

“I think both of us know each other very well, the weaknesses and strong points,” Sasaki said, through an interpreter. “I too will have self-confidence. And I think my players have a very strong mentality.”

Japan had a relatively easier time sweeping though the preliminary round with wins over Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador. The Japanese then effectively used their crisp, short-passing attack to build a 2-0 lead and overcome a late miscue by goalie Ayumi Kaihori to beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the Round of 16 on Tuesday.

Here are several things to look out for in a game between two nations meeting in the World Cup for the first time:

HEAD TO HEAD: Japan is 8-5-9 against Australia, including a 7-1-1 edge in their past nine meetings. Australia’s lone win over that stretch was a 1-0 victory in the 2010 Asian Cup.

Both nations had similar slow starts in World Cup play.

Though Japan is the only Asian nation to appear in all seven tournaments, the Nadeshiko failed to advance past the preliminary round until winning the title at Germany in 2011.

Australia is making its sixth appearance, but advanced past the preliminary stage just twice.

NOT SAYING: Sasaki wouldn’t tip his hand on who will be in net against Australia after Kaihori misplayed Kirsten van de Ven’s easy shot that went in during stoppage time.

“At the very end, we could call it an accident, but she has already completely revamped her mind and so have her teammates,” Sasaki said, before noting that won’t affect what decision he’ll make.

Kaihori has allowed two goals on five shots on net. Erina Yamane, who is nursing a shoulder injury, made three saves in a 1-0 win over Switzerland. And Miho Fukumoto, whose 79 games are the most among Japan’s goalies, made two saves a 1-0 win over Ecuador.

NO REST: The Nadeshiko will be playing on just three days’ rest after beating the Netherlands in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Matildas have been off since their 1-0 win over Brazil in Moncton, New Brunswick, on Sunday.

That’s fine for Sasaki, who noted the Japanese haven’t traveled far during the tournament. Japan played three games in Vancouver, and the other at Winnipeg.

The Australians played twice in Winnipeg and once in Edmonton.

NOT DUTCH: Stajcic had a blunt response when asked to assess how Japan’s passing attack was no match for the Netherlands.

“There’s only one difference,” he said. “We’re not the Netherlands.”

GREEN AND GOLD: Sasaki was surprised upon entering Commonwealth Stadium to see the seats painted green and gold.

Those are the colors of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, who call the stadium home, as well as the Australians.

“There’s too much yellow and green colors. We didn’t like that,” he said. “So we feel this is our away game. But we’ll fight hard.”



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