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Soccer - Australia coach Milicic shrugs off World Cup preparation worries

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Soccer - Australia coach Milicic shrugs off World Cup preparation worries
FILE PHOTO: Aug 3, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Australia forward Hayley Raso (16) and Brazil midfielder Debinha (9) battle for the ball during the second half at StubHub Center. Australia won 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports   -   Copyright  USA Today Sports(Reuters)
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia women’s coach Ante Milicic has shrugged off concerns about his players’ limited preparations ahead of the soccer World Cup as a number of Matildas struggle for game-time in the United States top flight.

Milicic will name his squad for the global tournament in France on Tuesday but will have little meaningful data on a number of players.

Hayley Raso has been unable to play for Portland Thorns in the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League due to visa issues while fellow forward Kyah Simon managed only 13 minutes in her comeback match for the Houston Dash before breaking down with an ankle problem.

Goalkeeper Lydia Williams has started just one match for Reign FC, and largely been frozen out by coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Defender Stephanie Catley has yet to play for Reign due to a calf injury while her Australia midfielder team mate Elise Kellond-Knight has been on limited minutes as a substitute.

The sight of fit Matildas used sparingly behind starting United States internationals has raised suspicions in Australian media but a philosophical Milicic said the matter was out of his hands.

“It’s been a little bit different now with the girls that we’ve got in America and some aren’t playing as many minutes as we’d like,” he told reporters in a conference call from Croatia on Friday.

“We’ve got also a couple (of players) in Europe and again, I’m just looking now in terms of the match minutes. The situation is what it is.

“Those things we can’t control … That’s why we’re constantly in touch with our players, and monitoring daily their loads, what they’re doing off the field and at the gym.”

In their last international, the world number six Matildas lost 5-3 to the world champion United States in Denver over a month ago and will head to France with a considerable deficit to the well-organised Americans in preparation terms.

The U.S. play a friendly against South Africa on Sunday, followed by further warmups against New Zealand and Mexico before their first group match in France against Thailand.

The Matildas have only one remaining warmup scheduled against the Netherlands the week before they meet Italy in their World Cup opener on June 9. Australia have also been drawn to play Brazil and Jamaica in Group C in France.

Far from lament the disparities, Milicic could not help but be impressed by the U.S. set-up and said Australia, quarter-finalists at the last World Cup in Canada, should take lessons from America if they aspired to become “world class”.

“Hopefully by the time that we meet (the U.S.), if we get the chance to play them again at the World Cup – we’ll have over a month of our own preparation together and no doubt we’ll be more than ready if that opportunity does present itself,” said Milicic, who announced a one-year contract extension on Friday.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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