Women’s World Cup Correspondent
Three of the five Asian representatives went through to the Round of 16 the of 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. With China and Japan waiting for their turn on Tuesday night, Australia have already been knocked out after playing 120 minutes against Norway losing in a penalty shootout. Despite their failure, let’s take a look at Australian women’s football culture.
How Did They Qualify?
After becoming an AFC member in 2006, Australia qualified as an Asian representative for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup along with, North Korea, China (the host) and Japan (who beat Mexico in AFC-CONCACAF Qualification.) For their participation this year, Australia became the runners-up of 2018 AFC Asian Women’s Cup held in Jordan. The AFC got give slots in this edition, meaning the inter-zone qualification was between the 4th rank in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship and the 3rd rank of CONMEBOL Copa America Femenina.
How Strong is Women’s Football Culture in Australia?
The national team, which are known as the Matildas (based on the Australian patriotic song Waltzing Matilda) started playing in international tournaments since the 70s. Their first World Cup was as an Oceanian representative 1995. They continued to represent OFC until changing their affiliation to AFC in 2006, as previously mentioned. Their best achievement at a World Cup is going through the quarter-final in 2015 edition, where they were eventually beaten by fellow AFC side Japan.
Football, or Soccer, has grown in popularity among the girls in Australia when the boys dominantly play rugby. The league has been established since 1996 but the professional and the current format of the W-League has been in operation since 2008. There’s is no promotion and relegation in W-League, following a similar system to the A-League, being a mode league with only an expansion in the future where the lower league aren’t integrated with the highest tier. Today there are nine teams on the W-League, and only Canberra United is not affiliated with any men’s club.
The Australian players do not only play domestically; they also have some abroad like Aivi Luik who plays in Spain with Levante and Tameka Butt Yallop play for Norwegian side Klepp. The W-League is only played from late October to early February, and many of the Australian players also contracted by US teams and play in their top league, the NWSL. This double actions also happened when the NWSL season is off in August or September, and some American players play in Australia until the next NWSL opens in March or April. This has meant that the Matildas have a similar game style like USWNT for years. Sam Kerr, who has already scored 36 goals in international level has already conquered both leagues as the top scorer.
Australia’s women’s team are also AFF members, but they never play with their senior side in AFF Cup due to the big gap with the ASEAN countries. The U-20 team has participated in the AFF Women’s Championship for years and in it’s latest edition in Indonesia, the young side finished as runners-up after the reigning champions Thailand. This move has been good for their youth development.
What Happened in this year World Cup edition?
In the last 16, Australia met Norway. The European side had a smoother path to the knockout stage, with hosts France presenting the only serious threat. Meanwhile, Australia had to fight against Brazil and dark horses Italy, the latter of whom defeated them in the group’s opener. The Matildas also showed a good fighting spirit against Brazil when they completed a comeback victory after going two goals down. They do not surrender easily, as they put pressure on Norway by scoring the equalizer at the 83rd minute, dragging the game into extra time and penalties.
But there are still problems for this team. One of them is the over-reliance on Kerr, as the whole team (or maybe the whole nation) really hangs their hopes and expectations on the shoulders of a 25-year-old who became the captain for this tournament. Even though she hit five goals in this tournament, it’s never a good idea for a team to depend so much on an individual.
Sooner or later Australia must have many figures that can be the key to success in every area. The give goals they conceded in the group stage have highlighted their defensive issues.
The situation wasn’t good heading into the tournament as their coach Alen Stajcic was sacked five months before the World Cup start. There had been some issues between the 45-year-old manager and the federation, which supposedly caused issues in the camp. With some exhausted players flying from the United States back to Australia before having a preparation in Turkey, their loss in the first game wasn’t good for the interim coach Ante Milicic.
But for Australia, who were the 4th ranked team in the FIFA Women’s Football Rankings, must hope for the best now that their journey has ended in France. There’s is so much young talent supported in a good environment that can ease their waiting for silverware. First of all, the U-20 may be seeking the chance to conquer ASEAN in AFF Women’s Championship in Thailand.
Come on Matildas, never stop waltzing!