Australia's breakthrough performance at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ two years ago showed that there is wealth of dynamic natural talent down under. While some of that generation have since closed the book on their international career, there are several talented youngsters already staking a claim on the world stage with the Matildas, none more so than teenage forward Kyah Simon.
Still only 18, the Sydneysider has already accrued a dozen caps, competed in two FIFA U-20 World Cup qualifying campaigns and proved herself capable of playing as a striker or attacking midfielder. Simon has what Matildas coach Tom Sermanni calls an "innate sense" for the game. After making her senior international debut as a 16-year-old Simon came to international prominence with a last-minute winner as Australia scored a famous victory over Brazil at the 2008 Peace Cup.
Simon is also proud of her heritage and joins a surprisingly small group of male and female Aboriginal Australians to have played for their country. Current Socceroo defender Jade North, Adelaide United captain Travis Dodd and 1974 FIFA World Cup™ representative Harry Williams are some examples. Simon has become somewhat of a role-model amongst the burgeoning group of young female indigenous Australians taking up the sport.
Champion bloodlinesA lot of young indigenous Australian boys gravitate towards Australian Rules Football or Rugby League but that is fast changing especially in the female game. Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams, also a young star on the rise, is another indigenous talent who originally hails from outback Western Australia.
Simon is far from being the only elite player in her family with cousin Gema, not only a regular with Newcastle Jets in the W-League, but also having represented the Young Matildas alongside Kyah in an unusual double earlier this year. On the other side of the family is cousin Kyle Vander Kuyp, a dual Olympian in the 110m hurdles and a prominent indigenous Australian. Add to that a host of Rugby League players dotted across the extended family and it is clear that the bloodlines have a natural sporting instinct.
Though still a teenager, Simon recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Indigenous Football Festival in Townsville as an ambassador, an experience she enjoyed immensely. "It was really good to see so many indigenous kids playing football. It was a nice experience for me to be seen as a role model and it really lit a spark in me so that was good. Definitely a lot of kids at the festival have a natural talent."
Next generationThe Matildas may have reached the quarters-finals at China 2007 but the challenge of qualifying through one of female football's hardest regions still lies ahead. Australia will face the likes of China, DPR Korea and Japan next May as the continent's elite strive to reach the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. Though the senior team is in a rebuilding phase, there is a stream of young talent coming through boosted by the experience of playing in the W-League. Whilst the U-20 team missed qualification for Germany 2010 a significant number of the team have already played for the Matildas with Simon key amongst the group.
Despite being blessed with an obvious natural talent Simon remains refreshingly modest and takes little for granted, not least her place in the Australian team. "Firstly (my aim is) to cement a spot in the starting team, and then work my way from there," she says humbly when asked her aims, before adding "then maybe to one day play in the US."
Simon capped off an impressive year by being named the U-20 Footballer of the Year at the 2009 Australian Football Awards. This teenager is keen to stay grounded. "Being an elite sportsperson in your country is a privilege. I really like being in a team environment and I just enjoy what I do."