Matildas co-captain Clare Polkinghorne doesn’t believe external pressure played a part in Australia’s floundering start to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The message coming from coach Alen Stajcic at the start of May was how they were gunning for the gold medal in Brazil after an impressive undefeated qualifying campaign.
And after getting off to the worst possible start with a 2-0 loss to Canada, the Matildas improved in their subsequent match against Germany, finding themselves with a two goal lead which they couldn’t maintain.
Australia managed to narrowly escape Group F after their 6-1 thumping over Zimbabwe and now the pressure only rises for the Matildas with an encounter with host nation Brazil in the quarter-finals at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte on Saturday (11am AEST).
The Brisbane Roar defender indicated the expectation was a good sign of how seriously the public took the Matildas and acknowledged the progress they’ve made since the opening match malfunction.
“We’ve probably had a few negative occurrences in the media of late, but it just means people are interested, have high standards and expect us to do well, I don’t think it affects us to be honest,” Polkinghorne told FourFourTwo.
“I guess it’s hard because we’ve got a lot of different players in different parts of the world, so player’s preparations might have varied and may not have been exposed to all the hype back at home.
“The players all have the same idea in terms of what we want to achieve, I think some are more vocal in putting that out there and we’ve had some successful times of late.
“That’s sparked the interest of the public which is good and got the expectation that we’ll do well. That’s good for us, but we have to put that on the field and prove we’re worthy of that.
“We spoke about the first game and we were disappointed with the way we played, we knew we didn’t play up to our best. Every game we’ve improved, we’ve worked our way into the tournament and we’re starting to play some good football, we’re starting to find out rhythm a little bit.”
Three players out of the 18-player Brazilian squad currently play with Australians at club level - Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams plays her football in the NWSL for Houston Dash and will go up against teammates Poliana and Andressinha.
And Orlando Pride defenders Steph Catley and Laura Alleway share the backline with Brazilian Monica.
Aside from the relationships, the Matildas know the Brazilians very well, they played in a friendly in Fortaleza two weeks ago which finished in a 3-1 victory to the hosts.
Both teams had recalled Australia’s stirring 1-0 win against Brazil in the Round of 16 2015 World Cup, but Polkinghorne said nothing was mentioned internally about the past triumph.
“We haven’t spoken about it (World Cup win) at all, if anything it proves we can beat them, we’ve done it before and we can do it again,” she said.
“If that loss spurs them on a little bit more, I’m not sure, but all that matters is the team that turns up on the day, puts in the effort and get the results.
“It doesn’t mean much to a certain extent, we were still in our preparation phase and tinkering with a few things in Fortaleza.”
The Estadio Mineirao holds a capacity of approximately 62,000 fans and was the venue of Germany’s famous 7-1 win over Brazil in the semi-final of the 2014 Men’s World Cup.
The Brazilians were already on the backs of the Australians in the game against Zimbabwe, with the locals cheering for the underdogs every time they pushed forward in Salvador.
Polkinghorne was looking forward to rallying the troops against world No.8 Brazil and welcomed the hostile environment the hosts may create.
“They’re passionate about their football and their team, it’s going to be an electric atmosphere with a lot of noise,” Polkinghorne said.
“It’s a massive game to play Brazil away in a quarter-final of the Olympics, it doesn’t get much better than that and it’s going to be a massive crowd there.
“It’ll be very exciting for all the girls and we’re really excited to get the chance to play in the last eight.
“They’re a really tough team, we’ve had some tough battles with them in the past and I’m sure Saturday will be no different.”