- Australia reached new high on global ranking in 2017
- Defeated numerous top-ten nations including world champions USA
- The Matildas were rewarded with unprecedented recognition at home
Australia have been making steady and significant progress in women’s football for years, but 2017 will be remembered as a truly breakthrough year for the Matildas.
Historic wins, record crowds and unprecedented media coverage was capped by Australia reaching fourth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking for the first time. Decades of incremental development suddenly became a jet-propelled upswing.
Currently the Matildas are on a seven-match winning run, and the list of victims could barely be more impressive. Starting with a historic maiden win over world champions USA, Australia have defeated 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ runners-up Japan, South American continental supremos Brazil and one-time World Cup finalists China PR. There was also a win earlier in 2017 over soon-to-be crowned European queens The Netherlands.
Most of the national team players now spend at least part of the year abroad. None made an impact quite like forward Sam Kerr. The 24-year-old top-scored in USA’s high-profile NWSL and is currently enjoying a Matildas’ record run of scoring in six consecutive matches. Kerr was named the best player in both the NWSL and in Asia.
Domestically Kerr was named Australia’s Sports Personality of the Year eclipsing players from the country's traditionally high profiled sports such as cricket, rugby and Australian Rules football. The fact that Kerr earned the award through a public vote speaks volumes about the Matildas’ new-found popularity.
The public also voted with their feet. A sell-out record crowd for a stand-alone national team match of 15,000 in September was eclipsed a few days later by an even larger mark for the second match against the visiting Brazil. By comparison, when the South Americans visited Australia in 2013, only 2,500 spectators were on hand. Add in a two-match visit by China in November, and the Matildas had displayed their wares in front of 50,000 fans.
Australia’s 2017 highs
1 – A 1-0 win over USA in Seattle was the first over the Stars and Stripes in 27 attempts
4 – Australia’s highest position on the global ranking
4 – Sam Kerr became the fourth Australian to be named Asian Women’s Player of the Year after Kate Gill, Katrina Gorry and Caitlin Foord
6 – Sam Kerr scored 11 goals in six straight matches to break the national team record for netting in most consecutive games
6 – Australia’s 6-1 defeat of Brazil was the second heaviest suffered by the South Americans
7 – Current run of seven straight wins equals the national team record set in 2007
16,829 – The highest home crowd for a stand-alone women’s match set for the Matildas’ match against Brazil in Newcastle
Evolution and ambition
“It might feel like an overnight success but there has been a lot of hard work from a lot of people for a long, long time,” Australia coach Alen Stajcic told FIFA.com. “The team has been evolving and developing over a long period.
“Our two biggest moments of the year were defeating USA in terms of getting the monkey off the back and the belief that comes with it. Secondly, having a sell-out crowd in Penrith was a symbolic marker in a way, and proved that women’s football can be a commercial and mainstream event that people want to support.
“That recognition and respect that has been affording the team was very rewarding, and we want to give even more back in response. We have put internal expectations on ourselves to strive even higher. Our aim is to be a top-three nation.”
Australia will feature in the upcoming Algarve Cup, ahead of April’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup where the Matildas will start as the highest ranked team for the first time.
The top-five nations at the eight-nation tournament will qualify for France 2019, with Australia drawn alongside Japan, Korea Republic and Vietnam.