It wasn’t when Cathy Freeman paid them a surprise visit in the lead-up, though you knew it wouldn’t be the worst thing Freeman did at Accor Stadium during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
You never knew the Matildas would win when Accor Stadium was sold out, although that sounded like a very good sign – even though the women’s football team’s 75,784 crowd fell short of the 83,000 mark because 10 per cent of Sydneysiders always seem to forget they’ve bought tickets to anything.
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You never knew the Matildas would win without their captain and their charm Sam Kerr pulled out before the game with a calf problem He struggled to complete the team’s training, although you dreamed that the Matildas team would be bigger than his hero.
You weren’t sure the Matildas would win when stand-in captain Steph Catley struck a sweet penalty into the left-hand corner of the net in the 52nd minute, as Ireland fought like leprechauns to the finish.
The moment you knew the Matildas were going to win?
It was a moment that never really happened. Not once during the entire evening, on TV or anywhere else in your life, you heard the sport referred to as a women’s sport.
It was just a game. This was not women’s football. It was just a ball.
It was a huge win for the Matildas and all fans of the game, regardless of the win.
Here’s something you might not know. The men’s World Cup is called the FIFA World Cup. In contrast, the World Cup Women’s World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with the gender of the players in the official title.
Australians know better than FIFA. We’ve taken the Matildas to heart and consider them one of our favorite national sports teams, after all.
The team name is all the proof you need. You know you’ve been fully accepted into Australian life when you have a nickname, and the Matildas have a nickname – while most people today call them “Tillies”.
Needless to say, the Matildas kicked a goal in the middle of Australia. But they have also won over the diehards. Your reporter can say this after watching Thursday night’s World Cup opener at a venue set up by Sydney’s Bayside Council at the football-crazy spot on the banks of Botany Bay.
This part of Sydney has a long history of soccer, home of Johnny Warren, the Socceroos’ great captain known as “Captain Socceroo”.
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Warren played for the local club and single-handedly helped the local women’s team grow into a stadium that became the backbone of Australia’s first women’s international team in the 1970s, before it was called the Matildas.
The crowd at the venue was not large. Wednesday night was Sydney’s coldest night of the year and Thursday night was not so hot. But the excitement when Steph Catley scored inspired everyone. No doubt it was the same throughout Australia.
For all the excitement surrounding their plucky win, the Matildas still have a lot to prove in this competition.
It is worth remembering that he has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup. If that changes, he’ll need to find a way to get things done that doesn’t involve Sam Kerr, even after he recovers from his calf strain.
He will also need to work on his defense as he has been caught napping in the Irish war on several occasions.
But it was a good start. The Matildas long ago defeated people who said that our national women’s team could not match the Socceroos because of their popularity.
Now beat the world on the football field.
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