The Matildas have maintained a place in the world top 10 for four years now. Photo: Geoff Robins Brazil’s Marta chases the ball during the match against South Korea in Montreal. Photo: Nicholas Kamm
It is hard to imagine Australia’s finest footballers sewing their own Australian crests onto their team tracksuits. But in 1988, when the Matildas arrived at their first world tournament, that is indeed what they did. Twelve years later, they would bare all in a nude calendar to raise money to fund their program.
In 2015, no one is talking about sewing skills or nude calendars but whether the rising stars of world soccer can beat Brazil – as they did in 1988 – and progress to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals.
FIFA’s bribery scandal overshadowed the start of this tournament. But it did not take long for the Matildas, Australia’s best-performed soccer team, to gain their dues as they advanced to the second round despite being drawn in the “group of death” – a name used in equal measure by Americans as Australians.
A hard-fought loss to the US, a victory over Nigeria and a mature draw with world No.5 Sweden saw the Matildas through.
At 3am on Monday, Sydney time, Australia, who are ranked 10th, will take on Brazil (seventh) as they aim for a third consecutive quarter-final appearance.
Brazil’s path to the round of 16 was tame. But that party is over for the world’s greatest player Marta, and her teammates. Australia are not, and will not be, shrinking violets. Says Matildas captain Lisa De Vanna: “If I was Marta, I’d be worried about Caitlin Foord.”
Foord, then just 16, famously marked Marta in her world cup debut in 2011. She was named young player of the tournament.
The Matildas have become the team no one wants to play. Blistering runs from Samantha Kerr; moments of sheer perfection from De Vanna; finishing by Kyah Simon. And that is before considering Elise Kellond-Knight and her vastly improved band of defenders.
All of which makes one wonder: have we been backing the wrong horse?
Notwithstanding the economic benefits of hosting a men’s world cup, nor diminishing the Socceroos’ achievements, it is time to remove the gender lens from Australia’s view of the world game.
For a moment ponder if Australia had spent a fraction of the $45 million invested in attempting to secure the 2022 men’s world cup instead boosting the women’s game – with fulltime wages, better-paid coaching and fitness staff and upgraded training facilities.
The Matildas have maintained a place in the world top 10 for four years now. They have played in all but one world cup finals (1991). The Socceroos are ranked 63rd, though their playing field is more level. Women’s football is dominated by wealthy, first-world economies.
The Sun-Herald does not support Football Federation Australia bidding for any FIFA tournament until such time as it can be satisfied FIFA is operating fairly. When that does occur, serious consideration needs to be given to which world cup hosting rights are worth pursuing.
The Matildas have come a long way since 1988. Yet there remains a small – but not insurmountable – gap between the top few teams and the balance of the top 10. To elevate them to the next level will take the support of the public, the media and the financial backing of government.
The Sun-Herald wishes the Matildas every success against Brazil, and in closing that gap.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.