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Seventeen minutes. The longest penalty shoot-out in all of World Cup history. A twenty penalty spectacular to decide the most important football match that us Aussies have ever seen.
It was one of those glorious evenings where a nation stops, just for a second, to share something special – except if you’re that one odd bloke watching Lord of the Rings.
I was at work myself, peering over customers’ shoulders to catch glimpses of their phones propped up against San Pellegrino bottles. Admittedly, the service I provided that night was slow. The consequent lack of tips was worth it, as in the 141st minute, we watched as Sydney FC’s Cortnee Vine drilled it into the bottom right corner. The restaurant was up on their feet.
Moments like these are something pretty special.
Yes, special in the way that all international matches are for your average Australian. There’s something so intrinsically woven into the fabric of our culture when it comes to sport. But I don’t think it’s anything too controversial to say that this World Cup has been somewhat of a new milestone.
Figures coming out of Seven West Media present an estimated average audience of 4.17 million during Saturday night’s quarterfinal featuring Australia vs France, making it the number one television event so far this year.
The viewership for the Matildas vs France match has surpassed the audience of any AFL or NRL grand final, as well as any State of Origin match.
These numbers don’t even capture those who headed down to their local RSL or pub or the multiple live site broadcasts set up for the game.
The AFL broadcasted the match into the MCG ahead of Saturday’s Blues vs Demons matchup. With the Tillies’ game going into overtime, Carlton and Melbourne fans alike booed as the big screens switched over for the footy to kick off. Fans were seen visibly shifting to the various TVs around the ground whilst others pulled out 7Plus on their phones to catch the shoot-out. Even Dees fans seem to have their priorities straight.
Because it’s what the Matildas represent. They embody the potential of a future Australia and show us how far we’ve come. It’s within their self-assuredness and confidence, we like to see reflections of our own. In a present Australian landscape that at times feels far less than united, tonight we can all indulge in 90+ minutes where we are all very much on the same team.
From selling lamingtons to selling out stadiums, the Tillies have come a long way since their FIFA debut in 1988. “Lamington stalls on street corners” were one way that the original Tillies would try to scrape together the funds to play, said Heather Reid AM, former Executive Director of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association.
Now here we are. The Matildas take on the Lionesses in the World Cup Semi Final at 8pm tonight and here’s what you need to know:
This is the big one: the co-hosts up against the reigning European champions, all with decades of sporting rivalry under their belts.
Tony Gustavvson’s Matildas will have the benefit of a strong wall of green and gold lining Accor Stadium in Olympic Park. With more than a third of our girls playing in the English Women’s Super League, it will be interesting to see the friend-to-foe dynamic that will be on showcase this evening.
England’s Lionesses are unbeaten in this tournament and in fact have only suffered one loss since Sarina Wiegman took the reins as coach in 2021. This 2-0 defeat actually came against Australia in April of this year. Since the sides last met, England presents a new-look side with star players injured or retired, and midfielder Lauren James suspended after the ‘stamping incident’ against Nigeria in the round of 16.
Despite these changes, England has proven that they carry the depth to cope with some key losses. Despite entering the tournament off the back of a knee injury, captain Millie Bright has been a rock at the back and will be the key to curbing Australia’s attacking threats.
Australia’s Caitlin Foord is another key player to watch tonight. The Arsenal forward has been lethal this tournament, switching from her role at the front in the opening matches to out wide in the knockout stage. The offensive load that Foord carries is no small feat, leading Australia in progressive carries and progressive receptions of the ball. If England can manage to effectively blanket Foord, the Tillies will need to double down in order to create.
A final mention to the Drews alumnae who have donned the green and gold on the field and on the sideline this tournament. As we approach our own Rosebowl final, Clare Wheeler (Fr 2017) and Clare Hunt (Fr 2017) have come a long way since they last played for the blue and white together. Although Hunt only made her Tillies debut just six months ago, the centre back from Grenfell has cemented herself as a valuable member of the starting XI, playing every minute of the tournament thus far. The fact made even more impressive off the back of countless surgeries that kept her off the pitch for five years. Now, Hunt is set to make a move overseas after her defensive duties have made the Wanderers star very attractive to some international sides.
The stage is set for tonight. If the girls are successful, they will come up against a strong Spanish makeup that conquered Sweden in Eden Park last night. They’ve already made history so far and if they progress, would be the first Australian side (men’s or women’s) to reach a FIFA World Cup Grand Final. Regardless of the outcome, the final this Sunday night at 8pm is a display of athleticism you wouldn’t want to miss.
Goodluck Tillies, we’re all behind you.