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Australia's Women's World Cup squad: Key players, ones to watch, expected starting XI

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The Matildas have had a tumultuous six months ahead of the upcoming Women's World Cup, a tournament where expectations of the Australian women are running at an all-time high.

When head coach Alen Stajcic was summarily dismissed at the start of the year amid claims of a toxic culture, the set-up looked to be in disarray and the shock victory over World No. 1 the United States to win the 2017 inaugural Tournament of Nations seemed a dim and distant memory.

However, since his appointment to the top job in February, Ante Milicic has seemingly steadied the ship. Experienced in the men's camp (as under-20's coach at the time of his appointment, and as assistant to Ange Postecoglou (2014) and Bert Van Marwijk (2018) at two World Cups) Milicic took over less than two weeks before the Cup of Nations tournament on home soil.

With fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas, Milicic intensified the battle for players vying to put themselves in contention for the World Cup.

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Trying a raft of combinations, he began to instill his ethos of keeping possession and playing out from the back -- a method that requires pin-point passing accuracy and a rock-solid defence.

A 5-3 friendly loss against the U.S. in April showed the Matildas can match it with the best in the world for long periods, but maintaining that intensity for 90 minutes and plugging the holes in the back-line will surely be a focus in the weeks before they head to France.

For next month's showpiece, Milicic has selected a team which combines runs on the board, along with the expected sprinkling of youth. The talent in the front third will keep any team in the world on its toes, however all eyes will be on the last line of defence and their ability to keep a clean sheet.

Key players

Sam Kerr is the name on everyone's lips ahead of kick off in France, and rightfully so, however the rest of the world knows what she can do, so expect them to try and mark her out of the game.

This leaves the door open for others to shine and Elise Kellond-Knight, a stalwart in the Matildas side will play an important role marshalling the midfield.

Capped 106 times for her country, the versatile 28-year-old is also a world-class option at left-back, though she prefers the No. 6 holding role. Expect her vision, distribution and ability to dictate the tempo of the game to be crucial to Australia's success.

Emily Gielnik is another who would relish the opportunity to show her class. A super-sub for Brisbane Roar in days gone by, a stint overseas has the tall striker in the form of her life.

The one player, however, who could well be the difference between World Cup glory or an early exit is Caitlin Foord. The Portland Thorns and Sydney FC star burst onto the international scene in 2011, picking up the Young Player of the tournament at the Women's World Cup in Germany.

Foord went on to win the AFC Asian Women's Young footballer of the year in the same season, before picking up the gong for AFC Asian Women's Footballer of the Year some five years later -- making her just the second player to win both the AFC's youth and senior Player of the Year awards. At 24 years old, the versatile Foord is in her prime and the world should underestimate her at their peril.

Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord
Caitlin Foord, right, will be key to Australia's success at the Women's World Cup.

Ones to watch

Mary Fowler will be 16 years and 112 days old when the World Cup in France kicks off. Should she make an appearance, it will be not just an opportunity to displace Foord as the youngest ever player at a World Cup (by 118 days) but a chance to follow in her footsteps.

Foord was also 16 when she won her award in Germany, and Fowler shows signs of being just as talented.

Despite just four substitute appearances with Australia, and far from a household name in her adopted country, Fowler's performances with the Young Matildas in Myanmar in April shows she has enormous potential. Given the chance, expect her to explode onto the scene and deliver on the promise that got her a seat on the plane to France.

Aivi Luik is at the other end of the age spectrum. The second oldest in the squad after Lisa De Vanna, Luik proves that tenacity brings reward. Since a star studded field saw her miss out on selection for Canada in 2015, and suffering injury ahead of the Rio Olympics, Luik has been toiling away at club level with Melbourne City in the W-League as well as traversing the globe with the likes of Fylkir in Iceland, Brondby IF in Sweden, Notts County in England, Valerenga in Norway and, more recently, with Spanish side Levante.

Should the 34-year-old get the chance to run out in France, her passion and experience may just play a key part as she turns back the clock to reprise her efforts in midfield at the 2010 Asian Cup.

Expected starting XI

Australia's expected starting XI
Sam Kerr will lead Australia's attack as they step out for their first match of the World Cup on June 9 against Italy.

Unlucky to miss out

You'd think that being part of a team that took out Spain's women's La Liga title might be enough to get a berth in your national team, yet for 20-year-old Alex Chidiac, that wasn't the case. Capped four years ago for Australia, Chidiac's three starts, 16 appearances and three goals for Atletico Madrid fell short of Milicic's standards. With the Matildas spoilt for choice in the midfield, the 20-year-old will now be focused on being in the reckoning for the Tokyo Olympics and beyond.

Eliza Campbell had a brilliant season between the sticks for Perth Glory in the W-League and was certainly in with a shot for a ticket to France. Bereft of chances to show her worth at the Cup of Nations tournament, she'll need to keep that form alive to put herself in the frame in the future and deny second- and third-choice keepers Mackenzie Arnold and Tegan Micah.

And finally, there's Kyah Simon. The 27-year-old has had a horror run with injury and is desperately short of minutes on the park, so was always going to to be up against it to be ready for France. A veteran of this Matildas group, Simon was a fan favourite in 2015 when she buried her shot against Brazil to send Australia through to the quarterfinals at the last World Cup in Canada.

Travelling over as a standby player for the pre-tournament camp in Turkey, Simon might have run out of time to feature in France but will have her eyes on a full return to form to push for selection ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Australia's Women's World Cup squad:

Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams

Defenders: Teigen Allen, Laura Alleway, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne, Gema Simon

Midfielders: Katrina Gorry, Amy Harrison, Elise Kellond-Knight, Chloe Logarzo, Aivi Luik, Emily van Egmond, Tameka Yallop

Attackers: Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso

Standby players: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Kyah Simon

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