‘It’s gonna be massive’: Matildas poised to move #BeyondGreatness at FIFA Women’s World Cup

If you’re seeing more than a few Sam Kerr jerseys in the streets, round balls in unfamiliar surrounds and cries of ‘Tillies’ echoing where you least expect them, it’s a sure sign that World Cup fever is on our shores.

From Thursday, July 20 until Sunday, August 20, Australia and New Zealand will co-host the globe’s largest women’s sporting event, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, in a month-long festival of football.

Featuring 32 of the best national teams, each will play three group games across nine cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Auckland, Dunedin, Hamilton and Wellington).

And the Matildas will be at the forefront on their often-repeated mission to inspire the next generation, just as they did when winning the 2010 Asian Cup in China and at myriad tournaments since.

Akin to when the Women’s Cricket World Cup brought world record attendances and Katy Perry to the MCG, don’t be surprised to see a similar effect of fanfare across the nation in the next month.

The round-ball game has often struggled to gain ascendancy in the media, but the feats of the Socceroos in Qatar last year and winning the 2015 Asian Cup give some idea of what will be celebrated in closer proximity.

Even better, it’s with an Australian side that is more than capable of capturing the greatest prize of all.

Once again, the tournament has attracted the cream of the world’s footballing talent, from multiple winners the USA and Germany, European champions England and perennial entertainers Brazil to the more unheralded finalists, such as the Philippines, Haiti, Panama and Vietnam.

The full squads are in, and the expectations of a nation will focus fairly and squarely on the talented women who hope to inspire, entertain and educate a new legion of fans far beyond each 90 minutes of football.

At least a total of 1.5 million people are expected to attend the matches, with an estimated TV audience of two billion globally, overcoming FIFA’s protracted broadcasting dispute with some of Europe’s largest nations.

How we’ve fared in the past

Australia has never advanced beyond the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final, but roared on by the fervent support, is better placed than ever to excel.

At the last World Cup in France, the Matildas lost 2-1 to Italy, bettered Brazil 3-2, and outclassed Jamaica 4-1 before bowing out on penalties to Norway in the Round of 16 after scores were locked at 1-1 after extra time.

Driven by the feats of past, present and future Matildas and the ethos that “We’re not done ‘Til It’s Done’,” the side has shown in the past year that the players have the necessary never-say-die spirit and quality to go all the way.

And performing on home soil raises the stakes even higher.

Another ‘Group of Death’

In Group B, Australia is pitted against first-time finalists Republic of Ireland (July 20, Sydney), Nigeria (July 27, Brisbane) and Olympic champions Canada (July 31, Melbourne).

Advancing to the knockout stages (the top two in each group qualify for the Round of 16 matches) is anything but a fait accompli.

Republic of Ireland, sitting at No.22 in the latest FIFA rankings, has plenty to prove at its first World Cup and defeated the Matildas 3-2 as recently as September 2021.

Next comes world No.40 Nigeria, led by five-time African Footballer of the Year Asisat Oshoala. The Barcelona star, 28, scored at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, the latter of which was where the country posted its best finish with a Round of 16 appearance.

And last, but not least, is world No.7 Canada, which defeated the Matildas twice in Australia in September. Christine Sinclair is the top scorer in international football with 190 goals in 323 caps but at 40 may need to rely on her younger teammates, including Julia Grosso, to help her add to her tally.

Ready to advance

Thankfully, coach Tony Gustavsson has turned around the team’s fortunes since he challenged the below-strength “Tillies” to compete against the best in a series of friendlies in 2021 and 2022.

For many, the scorelines were depressing viewing – amid brief glimmers of hope – for long-time fans: Germany 5 Australia 2; Netherlands 5 Australia 0; Denmark 3 Australia 2; Japan 1 Australia 0, Republic of Ireland 3 Australia 2 ; Australia 0 USA 3; and Australia 0 South Korea 1 followed by twin losses to Canada.

But the method in the madness – necessitated by blooding a number of youngsters to improve squad depth – has resulted in Australia approaching the tournament in fine form.

Since then, the Matildas have won home and away against the likes of South Africa (4-1), Denmark (3-1), Sweden (4-0), and Czechia (4-0), Spain (3-2) and Jamaica (3-0) in February’s Cup of Nations.

And last Friday’s 1-0 friendly win against France in Melbourne perhaps lifted expectations further among the adoring fans.

Beyond the scoreboard, the short-term pain has reaped rewards for long-term gains.

Charli Grant, for one, has emerged to become an outstanding replacement as a marauding wing back in the absence of Ellie Carpenter and Steph Catley. Likewise, Clare Hunt has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Western Sydney Wanderers to commanding a place in the Matildas starting line-up.

An array of Injuries presented Gustavsson with difficult choices before trimming the squad to the final 23 in early July, which included the choice of “game changer” Kyah Simon only nine months after her ACL injury.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that Simon, then 18, scored the winning penalty to secure the Asian Cup at the Chengdu Sports Centre way back in 2010.

The confidence is back, and a nation awaits.

As Ellie Carpenter told The Weekend Australian: “We have a team that could do something really special. We have great players who are in form, and we are playing in front of our home crowds. It’s gonna be massive.”

The FIFA Women’s World Cup will screen on Channel 7, 7plus and Optus Sport from Thursday until August 20

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.