Australia’s 2-1 victory over Norway on Wednesday, which ensured that the Matildas beat the Scandinavians to a place in the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-finals, is not a match Kyah Simon is likely to forget in a hurry.
A rising star on both the club and international stage, Simon is used to scoring important goals but her brace against Norway meant something far grander. “It was life-changing in terms of my career,” the 20-year-old told FIFA.com.
“A World Cup is something that I’ve always dreamed about coming to. I set some personal goals before the tournament, because I wanted to score as many goals as I could and set up as many as I could. I hoped that I would contribute to our success in this tournament. It was such a relief to see a few of the goals hit the back of the net - I was over the moon.”
Australia needed just a point going into the match but found themselves trailing shortly after half-time. Simon equalised almost instantly and finished the game off with minutes to go, but not before the Norwegians had struck the crossbar. Had Trine Ronning’s effort found the net, it may have been all over for Simon’s side, but she and her team-mates were always confident.
“We all had our minds set on the result that we wanted to get and it was just a matter of playing our football, working to our strengths and putting our goals away,” the forward explained. “It was disappointing to see them score first. But to bounce back and respond to that so quickly was really good, and then it almost gave us that extra gear to go and get another one.”
As well as becoming only the second Australian woman to score a FIFA Women’s World Cup double – after team-mate Lisa De Vanna four years ago - Simon had another, more personal, reason to be proud of her goals, as she became the first indigenous Australian to score at a FIFA World Cup. Following in the footsteps of Harry Williams and Bridgette Starr, who appeared on the world stage but failed to find the net, Simon made clear just how important she considered the landmark.
“I’m very proud of my indigenous background and to be one of the few indigenous people to have attended the World Cup, and then to be first one to score, is an amazing feeling,” she beamed. “A lot goes back to my family and my parents for putting in the hard yards to give us kids a better life. They set a clean pathway for us so we can excel in what we do.”
Having celebrated her 20th birthday on the day before the tournament began, Simon enjoyed the chance to mark the anniversary with her team-mates, which she claims has added even more to the team spirit in the camp.
She said: “I spend so much time with these girls and it’s almost like they’re my second family, and being around the team is like my second home because we travel so much together. It was good to celebrate something that’s going to change all of our lives, which is this World Cup. So it’s a birthday that I’ll never forget.”
Focus turns to Sweden
With the Matildas now in the last eight, though, celebrations will have to be kept to a minimum if they are to mount a serious challenge for the Trophy. Their next opponents are Sweden, who topped Group C ahead of USA, a result which Simon admits surprised the Australia squad.
“We were very surprised that USA weren’t on top because they are USA, there’s not much else you really need to say about them. They’ve made a name for themselves so it was a surprise to see Sweden get on top of them.”
Nevertheless, Simon insists the team will be focused and will give Sweden the respect they deserve: “When you go into finals, every team is going to be a tough one and you have to beat everyone. I don’t think it’s really fazed me or the girls who we play in this quarter-final because we have a job to do. We’re going to go out there and play our football and try to get the best result we can.”
In many ways, the match against Norway could prove to be the perfect preparation for facing their Scandinavian neighbours Sweden, a theory Simon subscribes to. “They are very similar teams,” she nodded. “There are a few differences with individuals but they are very similar in the way that they play, so I don’t think we could have had a better game before this coming one on Sunday. That’s definitely a positive.”