As midnight struck on the 20th of July this year, the countdown for the FIFA Women’s World Cup officially commenced. With Australia co-hosting the event alongside New Zealand in a year’s time, this will be the biggest test for the Matildas to date. Although they have players who are excelling over in Europe, they unfortunately, as a team, have been somewhat underwhelming regarding big international tournaments.
In 2017, the Matildas were at their height of women’s football after winning the ‘Tournament of Nations’ which included the United States, Brazil, and Japan. This tournament would show Australia winning all three games, beating the US for the first time. As veteran captain Lisa De Vanna lifted the trophy, it would signify the lifting of Australia into one of the best teams in Women’s Football.
This tournament would lay the foundation for a potential major run in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. However, less than 5 months away from the start, a scandal shocked the Australian football community – the Matilda’s coach of 5 years, Alan Stajcic, was sacked. The reason that was given for the sacking was due to the apparent “culture of fear” around the team. A quarter of players reported in surveys that they were scared to ask for help. Though these grounds can very much be used as a good reason to sack a coach, the fact that there were 5 months before the biggest tournament in world football meant that the FFA had to act quickly. Ante Milicic was brought in, who was a part of the Socceroos’ development for the previous 5 years.
The 2019 World Cup was a mixed bag for the Matildas. Their first group game they lost to Italy in the last minute (2-1) however, they bounced back in the final two games, beating Brazil (3-2), and Jamaica (4-1), with Sam Kerr scoring all four goals. The Matilda’s made it to Round 16 where they faced Norway and it went down to the penalties in which the Matildas lost. This tournament would be the biggest “what-ifs” in women’s football. If Stajcic wasn’t sacked, would they have done better?
It has been relatively the same since that tournament, as Milicic was sacked for Swedish coach, Tony Gustavsson. Though the majority of the Matildas’ players got big contracts to play in Europe, they have still struggled internationally. Very recently in February 2022, in the Women’s Asian Cup, Australia was eliminated in the quarter-finals against South Korea.
With the tournament in our backyard and the new talent coming in, will this World Cup vanquish the demons of tournaments past?