Matildas living the dream

Coaches have been known to exaggerate their team's triumphs from time to time but when Tom Sermanni described Australia's 2-2 draw with Canada as "fairy-tale stuff", there was not so much as a hint of hyperbole.

A Matildas side who arrived in China without a FIFA Women's World Cup win in nine prior attempts had, after all, just qualified for the quarter-finals in the most dramatic of circumstances, their veteran captain slotting home a decisive equaliser deep into stoppage time. As Sermanni said afterwards: "You probably couldn't have written a script with the way the game started and finished." After all, his side prevailed despite falling behind inside the opening 60 seconds and trailing again going into the 92nd minute.

"I thought we were terrific," he added. "After we lost that early goal I thought we settled down, dictated the play, kept the ball moving well and created some great chances. We started the second half in the same mode but to be honest, when they scored (their second goal), I thought we weren't coming back. But this team keeps surprising me."

Sermanni is unlikely to have been shocked that the hero of the hour was 33-year-old Cheryl Salisbury, Australia's 138-cap talisman and a player who has long since held the Matildas' goalscoring record despite playing at centre-half. The goal itself was no classic, as Salisbury readily admitted, but its significance to Australia's women's football was, she insisted, impossible to overstate.

"It probably wasn't the best connection, but it went where it was supposed to go to," said the Australia captain. "I said to the girls that it only takes a few seconds and passes to score a goal. We held our nerve and we did it. It's my fourth World Cup and we've finally made it through to the next stage.

"I think the importance of this result back home can't even be measured. In 1995 at my first World Cup, I don't think we were called the Matildas, or that the public even knew we had a women's team or that there was a World Cup going on. Growing up, there was no national team and no female soccer heroes, so for all those kids this will be a great thing and give them something to look at and shoot for. I feel so glad for them; now they know they can look forward to World Cups and all this in their future."

Celtic duo inspire McCallum
Australia's other goalscorer might be at the opposite end of the age spectrum to her vastly experienced colleague, but 21-year-old Collette McCallum proved once again that she has the temperament of a battle-hardened veteran by nonchalantly curling home a 25-yard free-kick.

The talented midfielder has been one of the undisputed stars of the Matildas' march to the quarter-finals and she claimed afterwards to have drawn inspiration from watching a couple of fellow left-footed midfielders - and set-piece specialists - in action for her childhood heroes Celtic. "Shunsuke Nakamura and John Collins from Celtic were my influences," explained the Glasgow-born midfielder. "I love watching Nakamura. I practise free-kicks at training and I felt confident, so I gave it a go.

"We deserve to be here and hopefully we can keep going further," McCallum added. "Over the past two years we've worked really hard to get together as a team and now with a little international experience under our belt we have shown that we can do well in the big games."

They do not, of course, come much bigger than facing Brazil, Marta et al, in a FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-final, yet Salisbury has every confidence that Australia's firepower can compete with the best the Canarinhas have to offer. "Brazil can score goals but we have some great weapons ourselves," said the skipper. "We'll see which team Tommy selects, we have faith in him and he in us. This team has heart."

That has been proved beyond question, and Sermanni's verdict on their quarter-final opponents also confirmed that the Aussies possess something else: a sense of humour: "Brazil?" he said. "They'll be easy!"