Violins out for Matildas in Valenciennes

Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight says Australia's opening World Cup opponents Italy have been huge improvers.

ELISE KELLOND-KNIGHT of the Matildas dribbles the ball during an Australian Matildas training session at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney, Australia.
ELISE KELLOND-KNIGHT of the Matildas dribbles the ball during an Australian Matildas training session at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Matildas have arrived in France to the tune of violins, landing in Valenciennes ahead of their Women's World Cup opener with Italy on Sunday.

Australia's title-chasers arrived in the sleepy northeastern town on Thursday (AEST), making the three-hour journey overland from the Netherlands on the team bus.

The Matildas have shed one player from their travelling party.

Train-on midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross was given her leave after being brought into the squad to provide support, and she has already found her way to a European beach.

The Matildas were greeted by a lavish welcome from classical musicians on arrival at the team hotel.

"It was a pretty great entrance with the band playing for us," Hayley Raso said.

"Our hotel is pretty incredible. It's great to be here. With all of the special welcome, it's exciting. It makes you feel like you're really here and ready to go."

Their first morning in France was taken up by FIFA tournament briefings, before training in nearby Saint-Amand-les-Eaux.

They have three training days in Valenciennes before taking on the Italians at the Stade du Hainaut.

Australia will start warm favourites against Italy, returning to the Women's World Cup for the first time in 20 years.

Midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight said any side that made it out of tough European qualifiers would need to be given respect.

"European teams have grown up with football their whole life. So they've got that X-Factor," she said.

"When I was at (German club) Turbine Potsdam I played with an Italian, Ilaria Mauro, their number nine.

"She was one of my best friends and she's a great player, has a really physical presence, and will be dangerous for sure.

"And she's probably improved a lot since she's gone back to Italy."

Australia defeated Italy 5-2 in their last clash at an invitational tournament in Cyprus five years ago.

Since then, the Italian league, led by powerhouse club Juventus, has invested strongly in the women's game.

"Teams like Juventus have come along and thrown money at it," Kellond-Knight said.

"The league's really decent now and you can see that in the national team.

"When we last played them, I don't think they were physically up to the standard whereas now they're a really good side."


AAP