Matildas can take the Games bragging rights
QUALIFICATION for the Olympic Games in Rio in August is not the only thing up for grabs for the Matildas this week when the qualifying tournament begins in Japan.
National pride is on the line for our top women footballers after their male counterparts - the Olyroos - failed to qualify for the Games for the second time running.
The Matildas also have another chance to raise the profile of the women's game following on from their exploits at the World Cup in Canada last year where they were knocked out 1-0 in the quarter-finals by Japan.
That tournament was shown live on SBS, and with Channel Seven broadcasting all the games involving the Aussie girls in Japan the whole country will have another chance to get behind them.
The Matildas kick off a gruelling 10 days with a game against the hosts in Osaka tonight.
They follow that up with a game against Vietnam on Wednesday before taking on South Korea on Friday, North Korea next Monday, and finishing off with what could be a crucial clash against China next Wednesday.
Lisa De Vanna, who will co-captain the team with Brisbane Roar's Clare Polkinghorne, knows just how important qualification is.
"In football, we're the only hope now the Olyroos haven't qualified," De Vanna said.
"We haven't had any football teams qualify in a long time.
"This is a chance to make a statement after doing so well at the World Cup, and to help grow the game and women's football.
"I'm sure that once we get through we can get a medal at the Olympic Games."
That is a bold statement from the veteran who won a W-League title with Melbourne City this season.
But with the likes of Elise Kellond-Knight and Emily van Egmond, who both ply their trade in Germany, the Matildas have players who can match it with the best in the world.
The W-League, too, has improved in standard, with the likes of Katrina Gorry, Kyah Simon and Tameka Butt all capable of helping the women get to Rio.
Coach Alen Stacjic will be without injured strikers Sam Kerr and Larissa Crummer, but still believes his team has the chance to make it to the Games for the first time since 2004.
"It's a massive challenge but, at the same time, it is really exciting and a great thrill," he said.
"We've had some Olympians from different sports come and talk to the group and it certainly raises the hair on the back of your neck thinking about the reward at the end of the rainbow if we can get there. To make it to the Olympics would be a massive prize and massive boost for the team and the code."