Ante Milicic names first Matildas squad, confident Australia can win the Women's World Cup
New Matildas coach Ante Milicic says Australia can win the World Cup, claiming sacked coach Alen Stajcic's blessing to take the team forward after their most acrimonious chapter.
Stajcic was axed last month by Football Federation Australia, which installed long-term Socceroos right-hand man Milicic in the role after a fast-tracked selection process.
Milicic is yet to speak to his team, and will do so on Saturday as the side assembles for three friendly matches on home soil beginning next week.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his appointment, Milicic was allowing himself to dream of what might be possible in June's World Cup; but only if he and his team put in the work.
"Of course we can win it," Milicic told Fox Sports News. "Our best record so far has been the quarterfinals. Let's not look further than the first game [against] Italy, that will be disrespectful to the other teams.
"There are quite a few countries that will feel they can go all the way to the final.
"We need to be as best prepared as possible, which I know we will be."
Milicic's primary job will be to restore order to the set up, rocked by Stajcic's departure.
FFA removed Stajcic just four months before the World Cup after their investigations suggested a significant portion of the team believed a toxic culture existed.
Other players were utterly distraught at the decision and FFA's handling of the situation.
Milicic and Stajcic have a shared history in the game dating back 30 years when they played alongside each other in junior NSW sides.
Milicic said they'd shared text messages and their relationship would be "very professional."
Pressed as to whether Stajcic gave his support, Milicic said "yeah."
"I think we both sit very comfortable with it," he said. "[In] this industry as a coach these things happen and you've quickly got to move on."
Unlike Stajcic, Milicic comes to the task without experience in women's football but he believes that will help give the team a fresh start.
"It's an advantage because I'm coming in with fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas," he said.
"I'm looking forward to working with this group. They play good football. We've got good players. It's a very talented squad.
"I'll treat them with the respect that they've earned, that they deserve."
Milicic admitted the challenging environment he was about to walk into, but said he hoped his appointment and the grandness of the biggest prize in women's sport would have a galvanising effect on the team.
"We'll have our meetings. We'll set the standards. The focus has to remain ... moving forward to a World Cup," he said.
"It's such a massive tournament. These girls are really positive about what they want to achieve."
Milicic has barely ruffled a feather with his selections for the upcoming Cup of Nations, leaving out Michelle Heyman but retaining the key names of the Stajcic era.
Steph Catley, Aivi Luik and Eliza Campbell are back after missing November's series against Chile.
Hayley Raso should enjoy a rapturous return to the national team after recovering from a broken back suffered on club duty last year.
There's also a place for Sydney FC's W-League championship-winning captain Teresa Polias, who returns to the squad after four years away.
Melbourne Victory defender Teigen Allen, a strong performer on the team's run to an unlikely premiership, is also back after three years.
Milicic has yet to appoint a captain but the regular skippers under Stajcic, Clare Polkinghorne and Lisa De Vanna, are both in the squad.
Stalwarts Katrina Gorry and Kyah Simon are unavailable due to injury.
Australia faces New Zealand on Feb. 28 in Sydney, South Korea on March 3 in Brisbane and Argentina on March 6 in Melbourne.
Matildas squad for the Cup of Nations:
Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Eliza Campbell, Lydia Williams
Defenders: Teigen Allen, Laura Alleway, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne, Gema Simon
Midfielders: Tameka Butt, Alex Chidiac, Elise Kellond-Knight, Chloe Logarzo, Aivi Luik, Teresa Polias, Emily van Egmond
Attackers: Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, Emily Gielnik, Princess Ibini, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso.