Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond aren’t strangers to the World Cup.
They’re both seasoned veterans. Both played in all five of Australia’s World Cup matches in 2015, when the Australian women’s national team reached the quarterfinals and eventually fell to Japan.
After that World Cup – Kennedy’s first and van Egmond’s second – the Matildas worked to shed the underdog role. They agree this time, with this Australian women’s national team, things feel different. Both said this could be the year Australia breaks through. The Matildas open their World Cup run with a match against Italy on June 9.
“I think this is definitely our best chance so far,” Kennedy said. “We truly believe. I think last time around we had started to ingrain into our culture a little bit more belief. It was a true belief, whereas maybe five, six years ago were always the underdog. I think still then, we were the underdog, and possibly would be labeled it now.
“But four years later, we’re a true competitors. I think people look at us so different to what they did four years ago, and I think our ranking obviously has gone up between the four years. We have so many players in form. So many players who are capable of changing games and doing things throughout the games. I would say it’s our best chance and hopefully we do well.”
Van Egmond said the is a year for Australia to make a statement.
“I think we’re just a young and vibrant team,” van Egmond said. “I think a lot of us came in at a young age and now that we’re at the 25, 26 mark I think now, we’re really starting to reach our peak. We’re just fun and we’ve got a whole different bunch of characters on our team, which is what I think makes us somewhat unique.”
The Orlando Pride-based duo of van Egmond and Kennedy has a combined 164 caps.
“Em’s one of my best mates,” Kennedy said. “It’s just cool for us to sort of share our experiences together and I think being able to kind of hold each other accountable a bit for what we’re doing in preparation for the World Cup and being on that journey together is special.”
They’re frequently seen coming out onto the training pitch at the Seminole Soccer Complex together.
“I’ve known [Kennedy] since we were like, 12,” van Egmond said. “I think we first make at a U-17 camp or something and then obviously, playing on the national team with her and to come here and play on the Pride has been pretty awesome. We’ve become pretty close. It’s super-fun to be together and to play with another Aussie.”
Kennedy and van Egmond both said what they’ve done become consistent international performers has just been part of the process. Neither one said the felt like they needed to make sacrifices.
Do they miss the time with their families? Of course.
“For me, it was like, I didn’t know any different,” Kennedy said. “It was just like, well this is what I have to do to be here, so this is what I’m going to do.
“Spending a lot of time away from your family. Missing out on some milestones. One of the girls is going to her graduation this week and we were talking about how important it was and I didn’t go to my graduation. I didn’t even know my last day of school was my last day of school because I just turned up and then all of the sudden, we had a camp on and I’m not there and I never went back.”
Van Egmond said she wouldn’t be where she is without her father, Gary, who is a former Australian national team defender.
“I’m very fortunate to have him,” he said. “He’s coached a lot of my youth teams growing up. He’s actually one of the assistant coaches of the Matildas. To be able to share this journey with him is quite special.”
Kennedy said women’s sports in general, not just soccer, have come a long way since she debuted in the World Cup in 2015 in Canada.
In fact, for her, it’s been one of the best parts of her journey.
“That’s really cool to reflect on,” she said. “I think the best part is being able to share it with your friend and having your family there when there are those big moments, as well. I just feel really lucky that this is my job. That’s probably the best part is I get to go to work every day and I feel like I don’t work a day in my life because I just do what I love.”
Van Egmond agreed and said, “It’s very exciting. I feel like it’s come along so quick from the last one in Canada.”
Brazil is also in Australia’s group for the competition, which means Kennedy and van Egmond will face current Pride players Marta and Camila and former Orlando teammates Monica and Poliana. Like the other members of the Pride who are set to compete in France, van Egmond and Kennedy said they didn’t talk too much about the international competition before leaving.
“Of course, there’s no friends once you cross that white line, but we’re pretty supportive of one another and just happy that we’re in such challenging and competitive environments,” van Egmond said.