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Pain of Olympic failures spurring Matildas star Lisa De Vanna to succeed at Rio

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The "slow-healing wound" of back-to-back failed Olympic campaigns has finally mended for Matildas striker Lisa De Vanna, who believes she might be part of the world's most dangerous strike force heading to Brazil.

The Matildas head to the Rio Olympics on the back of a barnstorming qualification phase, one that looked a nightmare but quickly turned into a dream when the team won their first four matches, earning qualification with a match to spare.

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Ranked the third-highest Asian nation going into the qualifiers, the Matildas had to defy the odds and right the wrongs of failed campaigns for Beijing and London, with De Vanna as co-captain helping guide the team to success in Osaka.

"It's been an eight-year wound. For a player to go to the Olympic Games, it's one of the biggest events in the world and to miss out on it twice has been a slow-healing wound," she said. "But to finally get there, and to get there alongside Polks [Claire Polkinghorne] as captain, it's a great honour.

"It's been a long time and I was a young kid when I went to my first Olympics, but there wasn't the self-belief or the talent then. This team has the individual ability to take on the great players in that tournament. It's a different feeling, I'm a bit older now and I think it's just going to be a fantastic journey."

The 31-year old has endured her share of very public ups and downs but remains Australia's most explosive player of either gender. She puts her success in the past year down to the mixture of calm and wisdom provided by coach Alen Stajcic.


"My relationship with Staj is a fantastic one. He's made me grow as a person as well as a player. His coaching knowledge of the game is fantastic and you have to give credit to him," she said. "He has a vision and he has the belief and he's always telling us that if you're positive and if you believe in yourself, we can beat any team. He sees what great footballers we are, and, for me, I think he's a genius."

Stajcic will have an extraordinary arsenal of firepower to choose from in Rio, with De Vanna joined by Kyah Simon, Michelle Heyman, Catilin Foord and potentially Sam Kerr and Larissa Crummer, who both missed the qualifiers with injury.

De Vanna was part of a selection of Matildas given a reception at Sydney Tower by their sponsor Westfield, at which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke of how the team was a national inspiration.

"I understand that the participation rate [of female footballers] has considerably improved, up 20 per cent, this year - and now 20 per cent of all registered footballers are women and girls, with the total number passing 100,000," he said. "You are the role models for all the young girls, who are out there kicking around the round ball. They are all looking to you, they want to be like you and they're inspired by you.

"And it's not just in football - you are examples of exemplary role models of success, effort and hard work. You inspire young people, especially girls, in having a go. You're making Australia stronger, more successful and more enterprising."

For De Vanna, such attention is hard to comprehend considering where the state of the women's game was only a few years back. "One of the things I say when I give talks to the girls is that I come from an era where we didn't get money. It was about the jersey. We didn't have any media attention, we didn't have the sponsors and interest that we do now and it all comes down to the fact that people want winners," she said. "When you start winning games and playing some good football, you win people over and I think what you've seen in the past 18 months is that we've played well and with self-belief. The country just gets behind you."