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Matildas Legacy Will Last

by John Iannantuono on Jul 13, 2011

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In an article she wrote just over a year ago, Melissa Barbieri vented her frustration at how quickly the Matildas had been forgotten only a few days after winning the 2010 Asian Cup — the first piece of silverware won by any Australian national team in Asia.

She cited her disappointment at the lack of exposure the team had received during the tournament, and although the Matildas enjoyed some positive media exposure upon their return home, once Sam Stosur got going at Roland Garos the spotlight was promptly couriered over to France.

While the Matildas are heading back home from the 2011 Women’s World Cup without declaring any silverware through Customs, interest in the squad won’t die with their 3-1 quarter-final loss to Sweden.

Just as the Socceroos of 1974 were trailblazers for men’s football, the current era of Matildas are very much the equivalent for the women’s game. Now, that statement isn’t intended to overlook the achievements of the 2007 squad, who also featured in a World Cup quarter-final and gave birth to the ‘never say die’ tag.

What this squad — the youngest at the World Cup, mind you, with an average age of 22 and fielding the youngest player at the tournament in Caitlin Foord (16) — has managed to do is capture the interest of the nation.

Before the girls headed off to Germany, there was genuine hype about the tournament. They appeared on the front cover of FourFourTwo — a first for any Australian football publication — and appeared in print and TV during the lead-up to the tournament.

Personally, I’ve never anticipated a Women’s World Cup more than this one. Before the tournament kicked off, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I can: the genuine, sincere nature of the Matildas themselves, and that of women’s football.

There’s an element of honesty in women’s football that appears to strike a chord among so many. Granted, there’s the odd theatrical player doing her best to become Hollywood’s next leading lady, however on the whole the players are quick to get on with the business of playing football.

Unlike games involving their male counterparts, simulation is virtually non-existent (well, in the games I’ve seen anyway). Players get knocked down and get up quickly. In the match against Norway, for example, Kyah Simon got knocked on the shoulder, and rather than rolling around as if someone had hacked at it with a chainsaw, she grimaced a little and then popped it back in. All while standing up.

It’s the kind of stuff that reminds me of junior football, where players ride tackles and stay on their feet to skate past defenders, stand tall when bumped off the ball, dust themselves off quickly after being challenged and hide any sign of injury so that the coach doesn’t reach for the dreaded Shepherd’s hook.

They exude a genuine passion to play the game: a passion that’s pure and honest.

It’s those very same traits that exist within the Matildas, and it’s a trait that has endeared them to many new fans, including corporate Australia who are reportedly queuing up to align themselves with the new darlings of Australian sport.

While the Matildas didn’t win the Women’s World Cup, they’ve achieved so much more in the overall scheme of things.

So keep the lid on the pen for now, Bubs.