Australia has an obsession with nicknaming its national sporting teams; the only team that seems to escape an alternative name is the men’s cricket team.
The Australian Women’s football team is nicknamed the Matildas, the name not surprisingly coming from the famous bush song, “Waltzing Matilda.”
The Australian Women’s Soccer Association was formed in 1974 and four years later the first Australian national Women’s team took to the field at the World Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan in 1978. Julie Dolan was the Matildas’ first captain n and Jim Selby was the coach. Australia however was the only national team at the tournament so these games are not recorded as official games and those who played were not awarded international caps.
Australia’s first official international came on October 06 1979, when they took on near neighbours New Zealand in Sutherland, New South Wales. The result was a 2-2 draw.
Australia was then in the Oceania Confederation and first played in the Oceania Cup in 1983, where they lost in the final to New Zealand. In 1986 only three teams contested the tournament New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan. Australia again lost in the final.
It was not until 1987 that Australia encountered European and American opposition.
1991 saw the Oceania Cup double up as a qualifier for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Matildas finished level on points with New Zealand but had scored fewer goals and so New Zealand attended the finals as the Oceania representative.
Between 1991 and 1994 the Matildas only played internationally once during a tour of Russia in 1994. Once again the Oceania Cup decided who would play at the World Cup, again Australia finished level with New Zealand in the round robin tournament, but this time they had the superior goal difference. So the Matildas made their first appearance at the World Cup Finals.
The 1995 World Cup was held in Sweden, Australia had the USA, China and Denmark in their group. They lost to Denmark in their opening match 5-0, 4-2 to China and despite opening the scoring lost 4-1 to the USA. Angela Iannotta holding the distinction of being the first Australian woman to score in a World Cup Finals, she scored in the 25th minute Sunni Hughes the second in the 89th against China.
In 1998 they thrashed their Pacific Island neighbours booking another showdown with New Zealand. Along the way they recorded their biggest ever victory a 21-0 win over American Samoa. They beat New Zealand 3-1 – the only goal they conceded in qualification – to book their place in the finals in the USA.
This time they were grouped with China again, Ghana and Sweden. They picked up their first point at the finals with a 1-1 draw with Ghana, but then lost 3-1 to both of their other opponents.
It was in the lead up to this tournament that Australia sat up and took notice of the Matildas, as to raise much needed funds to participate in the World Cup the girls posed nude in a calendar, “The Matildas – A New Fashion in Football.” The calendars sold out rapidly and are in fact a collector’s item today!
Australia hosting the 2000 Olympics certainly gave the women’s game a boost. Attendances were high at all of their games as was expectation, but a 3-0 loss to Germany, followed by a draw against Sweden and a loss to Brazil, saw them replicate the efforts of the men, the Olyroos, bundled out in the first round.
In 2003 they again won the Oceania Cup and headed off to the World Cup, again hosted by the USA. In Australia’s group were once again China, along with Russia and Ghana. The Matildas took the lead against Russia, but conceded an own goal a minute later and ended up losing 2-1. They drew with China 1-1 and lost to Ghana 2-1 to finish bottom of their group.
The 2004 Olympics saw the best performance yet on the World stage by the Matildas. Australia lost their opening game 1-0 to Brazil (Silver medal winners), but then defeated Greece 1-0 and drew 1-1 with the USA (Gold Medal Winners), this meant that they progressed to the quarter finals for the first time. Here they met Sweden and were defeated 2-1.
In 2006 the Matildas built on that momentum and became the first Australian team to qualify for a tournament in the Asian Football Confederation; Australia having left Oceania to join the AFC. They made their mark straight away. They defeated South Korea 4-0, Myanmar was dispatched 2-0, and they drew 0-0 with North Korea and thumped Thailand 5-0. That saw them through to the semi final where they met Japan, who they beat 2-1. The Matildas had made their first final, but it was not to be the fairytale finish everyone dreamed of. With the score level at 2-2 after extra time the game went to a penalty shoot out. Collette McCallum saw her penalty saved, as did Jo Peters, China slotted home all of theirs, meaning Sally Shipard’s and Alicia Ferguson’s came to naught.
2007 and it was World Cup time again, their final loss having guaranteed them a place at the finals in China. In their group this time were Ghana, who they defeated 4-1, Norway with whom they drew 1-1 and Canada who they drew 2-2 with. These results saw them undefeated and second on goal difference to Norway, but guaranteed them a place in the Quarter Finals. Here they once again met Brazil. Despite being 2-0 down the girls came storming back to make it 2-2 and Brazil looked rattled. In the 75th minute Cristiane shattered their dreams scoring for Brazil, who went on to lose the final to Germany.
They failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and after climbing through the group stages of the Asian Cup lost to North Korea in the semi finals, before losing the third place play off with Japan 3-0 to finish fourth. The Matildas were however rebuilding under the guidance of Tom Sermanni as he looked to consolidate on the earlier success and build for the future.
In 2010 his vision paid dividends, as the Matildas became the first Australian team to win a major international tournament. In their group they saw off Vietnam and South Korea but went down to an early goal against China, which saw them runners up in their group. In the semi Final a Kate Gill goal right on half time gave them the win they so desperately wanted. They were in the final again, this time against North Korea.
Just as had happened in 2006 the game was level after extra time, this time 1-1, Sam Kerr having given them an early lead. There was however no repeat in the penalty shoot out with all five Australian girls finding the back of the net, Sally Shipard, Kylie Ledbrook, Kate Gill, Heather Garriock and the all important winner, by eighteen year old Kyah Simon.
Now they will take on the World in 2011 in Germany…