Qantas Matildas Interview - Melissa Barbieri

If the confidence and determination of Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri are any gauge then the next few years are set to be exciting times for the Qantas Matildas.

If the confidence and determination of Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri are any gauge then the next few years are set to be exciting times for the Qantas Matildas.

The 26-year-old is the last line of defence in a team that have set out to make history as the first Australian team to win an Asian title since the historic move into the Asian Football Confederation on January 1. There is also the small matter of qualifying for the next year-s FIFA Women-s World Cup in China.

Such are the prizes up for grabs in Adelaide during the 15-day tournament for the nine nations in attendance at the 2006 AFC Women-s Asian Cup.

Qualification will be claimed for next year-s World Cup by the top two teams - aside from China - from this tournament, plus a third nation will play-off against a CONCACAF representative.

Having earn-t the number one jersey in the squad for the first time when incumbent coach Tom Sermanni selected his first group of players in January of last year, Barbieri has firmly established herself as the nation-s top female shot-stopper and the Victorian intends to keep it that way.

“My short term aspirations are to keep clean sheets in every match I play in this tournament and then beyond,” says the veteran of 31 national team appearances.

“But I don-t just want to be the number one in Australia but I want to be number one in the world.

“Longer term I want to make the World Cup but like they said with the Socceroos ‘we won-t just be going to make up numbers-, we want to put a stamp on the World Cup and go for top three placings. We won-t be striving for mediocrity we want to strive to be the best in the world and hold up that trophy at the end of the tournament.”

Remarkably Barbieri started out at the same club that has helped produce Socceroo midfielders Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella, that being Bulleen Veneto in suburban Melbourne.

Despite a few years out of football the enthusiastic teenager soon found herself selected in the train-on squad for the Qantas Matildas - as a left midfielder! Indeed, along with Greg Brown, the head coach at that time consisted of one Tom Sermanni.

It was only at the age of 20 back in 2000 that Barbieri pulled on the gloves permanently and the ebullient shot-stopper has never looked back.

After a solid crowd attended in miserable conditions at Hindmarsh Stadium last Sunday for the tournament opener against South Korea, the whole Aussie squad will be looking for some extra home support especially for Saturday-s crucial match against North Korea and hopefully the semi final and final the following week.

“Playing in front of our home crowd is a bonus and it is an exciting moment to be able to play in front of your home crowd with family and friends present in such a prestigious tournament,” she continues

“I felt before the first game there was a confident kind of nervousness (in the dressing room). We were playing before a home crowd and a big game, but it was a confident nervousness. Everyone needed the butterflies in the stomach just to know that they are alive and ready to play … it wasn-t a ‘I-m going to make a mistake nervous-, it was more a ‘We are going out there to show how good we are.-

“We are just anxious to get out there and show everyone what we can do.”

With a settled squad having played 22 international matches in 18 months plus numerous camps at the Australian Institute of Sport the Aussies are fairly well prepared for Asia-s finest. Indeed since Sermanni took the helm, the team have a secured 11 victories and suffered just 7 defeats with all but seven of those 22 matches against Asian opposition. The period highlighted by a win over world champions Germany, a first-ever draw against the USA and a number of victories over quality Asian opposition.

“We have had a very good preparation in the last 12 months and due to that we are feeling confident in ourselves and our team structure,” says Barbieri.

“Our preparation has played a big role to secure that. Tommy has been working on certain technical issues that we need to focus on and we are very confident in ourselves and we have a team bond and unity that I haven-t felt before.

“It has been a big build-up to what is the pinnacle of our sport at the moment (World Cup), and I have been looking forward to this tournament for 12-18 months since Tommy took charge.

“We have had a good vibe in the squad ever since Tommy took charge, and he has made us feel more professional about ourselves in the way we play. There is a sense amongst all the girls that we are really striving to be our best.”