A pulse check on our women’s national team.
By Will Guthrie
In 2006, when Australia’s Golden Era of men’s football was at its peak, you’d have been laughed at for suggesting that a decade later, the women’s team would be showing them how it’s done. With the recent announcement that Australia and New Zealand will co-host the Women’s World Cup in 2023, women’s sport in this country has never looked better. In fact, at a quick glance, Australia is primed for another potential period of success, only this time, it’s the ladies’ turn.
It’s truly fortuitous that, at a time when the men’s game seems to be on the slide, the women’s game has provided such a boost to the morale of football fans around the country. The decline in relevance of the men’s A-League has been worrying and underwhelming campaigns by both the men’s and women’s teams at their most recent World Cup’s respectively, only served to highlight how much we have needed a circuit-breaker of sorts. Whilst the Matildas made it out of the group stage at the Women’s World Cup in France last year, they were disappointed to crash out on penalties in the round of 16 to Norway. They’ve set high benchmarks for themselves and as a result, now know what playing with the weight of expectation feels like. They want to come back stronger and are going about it the right way.
A quick glance at the results from France 2019 paints an interesting picture; seven of the final eight teams in the knockout stages were from Europe. Clearly, women’s football is thriving on the continent and it seems our Matildas are well aware of this. Since the events of the World Cup unfolded, a host of Matildas players have secured moves to big clubs all across Europe; with the majority to the thriving Women’s Super League (WSL) in England. However, there have also been moves to Holland and France, as well as several leagues in Scandinavia. Crucially, all had strong showings at France 2019. In addition to star talisman Samantha Kerr moving to Chelsea FC last year, Steph Catley, Lydia Williams and Caitlin Foord have moved to giants Arsenal FC, Hayley Raso has re-signed for Everton FC and Ella Mastrantonio signed for Bristol City FC. Even more pleasing is the presence of Australian coaches in the WSL, with Tanya Oxtoby coaching Bristol City and Arsenal being coached by Joe Montemurro and Alex D’Antino. Throw in Ellie Carpenter and Mary Fowler playing at Olympique Lyon and Montpellier respectively in France, and veteran forward Kyah Simon joining Amy Harrison at PSV in the Netherlands, the future of Australian Women’s Football looks healthy. All of that is without mentioning the handful of names plying their trade in Scandinavia and, of course, Chelsea superstar Sam Kerr, who needs no introduction.
Winning a World Cup is never easy, but with a squad whose leaders and core players will be in their prime in 2023, at home in front of a parochial crowd, the Matildas have every right to be bullish about their prospects. Australia’s track record of hosting major events and doing them justice will only serve to further strengthen the game here and abroad. With a strong squad that will seemingly only improve over the coming years, led by a brash and captivating talent like Sam Kerr, the potential for sustained success is there. It’s a credit to all involved with the Matildas that they have come so far in such a short space of time, ranked seventh in the world but capable of beating anyone, at the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2023, they will be the team that most are keen to avoid. It’s even more impressive when you consider the controversial decision to axe former coach, Alen Stajcic on the eve of France 2019 and the potential for that to divide the dressing room. It could have also served to create friction between the players and the FFA, however, as true professionals, the Matildas have pressed on, keen to capitalise on the wealth of talent and chemistry in this current group. Right now, they are one of the hottest tickets in Australian sport and blazing a path to professional success for young females all around Australia, so get on the bandwagon now, you’ll be grateful for it in a few years’ time.