IT WASN’T easy and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win, and this particular victory will live long in the memory of the Matildas and Australians across the country.
In front of a sellout crowd of more than 75,000 fans at Sydney’s Accor Stadium, fill-in skipper Steph Catley stepped up to the penalty spot with the hopes of a nation on her shoulders. After a scoreless first half that saw Ireland’s sturdy defence deter an Aussie onslaught, fears of an early misstep similar to the Matildas 2-1 loss to Italy in the opening game of the 2019 world cup, may have begun to bubble up. But cometh the hour cometh the man, or in this case, the woman. Catley delivered a precise spot kick that would prove decisive, with the clinical strike marking the only goal of the outing, giving the Matildas the ideal start to the world cup, and sending fans into uproar.
Although Australia is celebrating a landmark victory, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Matildas captain and global superstar Sam Kerr has been omnipresent in the lead up to the world cup. Fronting every press conference, appearing on countless billboards, and performing her signature backflip celebration in what seems like every ad break. Seriously, it seems like you can’t go anywhere with seeing Kerr’s face these days. So, when it was announced mere hours before kick-off that the 29-year-old would miss the opening encounter, stomachs dropped, palms perspired, and fingernails were chewed. At least, that’s how I reacted.
In the end it didn’t matter. The Matildas held their nerve in the rough contest that threatened to turn ugly at several points, proving the girls are greater than the sum of their parts in an edge-of-your-seat inducing spectacle that truly wasn’t over until the final whistle sounded.
The Matildas triumph has had two major impacts. For one, it’s cemented a collective feeling around the nation that we could actually win this thing. And two, it’s prompted a wider reflection on how far the women’s game has come, while offering an insight into what the future holds. In total, 75,784 spectators packed into Accor Stadium last night to watch the Tillies, making it the highest attended women’s football game ever on Australian soil. The new mark eclipses the previous record set just last week when over 50,000 watched Australia defeat France in the final warm-up game before the world cup. Both results give a shattering indication of how much the women’s game has grown, and how much support the Matildas have behind them.
Meanwhile, our neighbours across the Tasman Sea had their own records to break. 42,137 fans watched the ‘Football Ferns’ (somebody needs to step it up in New Zealand’s marketing department) upset a highly favoured Norwegian side at Eden Park, setting a new attendance record for both men’s and women’s football in New Zealand. It’s apparent the argument that “no one watches women’s football” no longer holds any weight. Now the guy who claims that women’s sports don’t generate any interest is not only the person you avoid at parties, he’s also flat out wrong. 1.4 million tickets have been sold for world cup matches over the next month, with thousands of overseas fans expected to flock to the shores of Australia and New Zealand.
What does this mean for the future of women’s football in Australia? Well, if attendance numbers and ticket sales are anything to go by (which they are), the Australian appetite for women’s football has never been greater. While hosting the world cup might seem like the culmination of years of progress, it’s also the beginning of a new chapter, one in which women’s football is not only on par with men’s, but in many aspects, surpasses it.
When will Sam Kerr return?
The Matildas managed to secure three points in the absence of their talismanic striker and captain, but fans will feel far more confident in the team’s chances once Sam Kerr is back on the field.
Kerr injured her calf in a training session only one day prior to the Matildas opening game, which was kept under wraps by coach Tony Gustavsson until right before kick-off. Kerr is expected to miss Australia’s second group stage fixture before being reassessed next week. The typical recovery time for minor calf strains is 1-3 weeks, meaning that a return in the Matildas third and final group stage match could also be pushing it. But should Australia advance to the knockout stages, Kerr will likely be fit and importantly, well rested.
Who do the Matilda’s play next?
Following their win against Ireland, the Matildas will now play Nigeria on Thursday, July 27th at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. After that, they’ll play Canada in Melbourne on Monday, July 31st. Should they advance beyond the group stage (which is likely), only four games will stand between the Matildas and world cup glory.
Can the Matilda’s win the World Cup?
The Matildas have been knocking on the door of greatness for quite some time. While the team has only made it as far as the quarterfinals of any world cup tournament, with a star-studded squad, an impressive recent run of form, and the ability to beat any team on any given day, anything is possible.
The Matildas aren’t the odds-on favourites to win the world cup but are considered by many to be a dark horse contender. Ranked tenth in the world and with home-field advantage in every game, the Matildas absolutely have every chance of winning the tournament and solidifying a legacy that will be spoken of for generations to come.