Luik’s long wait to realise a dual dream
Australia’s Aivi Luik is enjoying a late career boom
Recently became the oldest player to represent the Matildas
Australia are a win away from reaching the medal round for the first time
It is said that ‘good things come to those that wait’. For Aivi Luik it was a case of wait, wait and wait some more.
In 2015 Luik was cautiously optimistic as she waited in hope for selection for Australia’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ squad. But when news of the squad was confirmed, Luik’s name was absent.
It was a devastating blow and Luik, at the age of 30, was certain her hopes of playing at a major tournament had evaporated. The Matildas’ current generation seem uniformly young and in that sense Luik seemed an ill-fit.
But fast forward to 2021 and Luik, at 36, has become the oldest player to represent the Matildas. More than that she is now basking in being called ‘an Olympian’, and can also boast Women’s World Cup football on her CV. The latter she described as “25 years in the making”, after failing in love with the quadrennial football jamboree during USA 1994.
“Not getting the call up to the 2015 World Cup was really hard because at the time, I felt like it was my last chance to compete in a World Cup and fulfil a childhood dream,” Luik told FIFA.com ahead of Tokyo 2020. “I experienced a lot of disappointment, sadness and just hopelessness really. “Shortly afterwards, things returned to normal but it was still hard to hear anyone speak about the World Cup. In 2019 I ended up being picked in the squad for France so I was ecstatic of course. “There were definitely doubts that the opportunity had passed to compete in both the World Cup and Olympics. To be honest, my focus changed from thinking so intensely about those two things to just playing hard at club level, and when national team opportunities presented themselves to take them one at a time and do my best and whatever happened from there happened.”
Olympic glory Australia will tackle Great Britain on Friday with a first-ever passage to the medal round on offer for the Aussies. Victory would go some way towards putting the pain of Rio 2016 aside, with the Matildas suffering a quarter-final exit on penalties against the hosts. A midfielder by trade, new Australia coach Tony Gustavsson has looked at using Luik in a central defensive role. In a sense, Luik knows adaptability as much as anyone. Born in Brisbane to Hungarian and Swedish parents, Luik has, quite remarkably, played club football in ten different countries. Luik, who says she won’t be on the pitch when Australia co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, believes the Matildas are well placed under their new Swedish mentor.
“Tony [Gustavsson] brings so much to our team,” Luik said. “His knowledge of the game, his positivity and general understanding of both the player and the person, his management skills and almost most importantly his experience in winning competitions in which silverware has eluded us so far, are all key qualities I believe will help this team immensely. “We've learnt a lot so far and we've only been together with him for a few months so I can only see us growing and becoming more successful in the future.” For now Luik is enjoying her status among world sport’s most elite club. “It feels incredible to be called an Olympian. To be classed amongst the best athletes in the world is a great achievement and it's a title that once earned, can't be taken away from you. And I think that's an amazing reward for the hard work it takes to get here.”