Guide to Matildas' World Cup rivals Italy

A look at Australia's first-up opponents at the Women's World Cup, Italy.

The Matildas kick off their World Cup campaign on Sunday night (AEST) when they face Italy.

The world No.15 breezed through European qualifying but haven't been on the world stage for some time.

This is their first Women's World Cup in 20 years, they've never qualified for the Olympics and haven't won a knockout match at the European Championship since 1997.

Still, there's a sense the Italians have improved and will challenge Australia when they meet in Valenciennes.

THE COACH: Milena Bertolini

Bertolini, a former international central defender, leads Italy. The 52-year-old rose through the ranks at Italy's Verona, Brescia and Reggiana and has cited Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola as an inspiration.

THE SKIPPER: Sara Gama

Gama, also the captain of Italian champions Juventus, has made more than 100 appearances for the national team but none at a World Cup. The 30-year-old was transformed into a Barbie doll last year as part of a "Sheroes" campaign designed to promote diverse role models.

THE STAR: Barbara Bonansea

Another of Juventus' eight-strong group in the national team, the 28-year-old is an adaptable winger that scored three goals and made six assists in Italy's qualification campaign. She is also an economics student.

THE SCORER: Valentina Giacinti

Giacinti won the Serie A golden boot for a second straight season, switching from Brescia to AC Milan but keeping her shooting boots. The 25-year-old may be deployed off the bench in France.

THE SQUAD

Italy's players aren't well-travelled; all but defender Elena Linari of Atletico Madrid play in the Serie A and only a handful have played outside the country. That includes striker Ilaria Mauro, who played alongside Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight at Germany's Turbine Potsdam.

THE REPUTATION

Italy like to play a possession-style game but are stingy at the back. In their seven-game winning run to secure passage to the World Cup, Italy conceded just two goals. The side is tactically astute and take pride in showing flair further up the pitch.

THE STYLE

The Matildas may have a street art-inspired home kit but the Italians will have them matched off the pitch. Legendary designer Giorgio Armani signed a deal this year to provide suits to Italy's national footballers, keeping them as fashionable as the country's reputation.

THE CUP RECORD

Completely absent on the world stage for two decades, Italy's best result was a quarter-final appearance back in 1991; the only World Cup Australia has failed to make. They were runners-up at the European Championships in 1993 and 1997.

THE AUSTRALIAN VIEW

"You can always expect Italy as a nation to be pretty passionate and I think that's what we're expecting from their national team. We will definitely have to be on their toes and be prepared for anything ... they like their fancy footwork and they're technical as well" - midfielder Tameka Yallop.


AAP