Football

Matildas can win World Cup

Sam Kerr - Founding Contributor

Football

Matildas can win World Cup

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There is no question about it. The Matildas can win the 2019 World Cup.

 

Winning an event like the Tournament of Nations is incredible but if you’re not there in 2019, and you’re not playing at your best, then it was all for nothing.

 

People say the next World Cup is still a long time away. That’s not how we see it. Since we lost to Japan in the quarter-finals last time, that has been our main focus.

 

Building towards that tournament in France. Building depth in our squad. Building a genuine contender for 2019.

 

We’ve just beaten three of the top nations in the world – the USA, Japan and a 6-1 win over Brazil in the final – to claim our first trophy in seven years. That gave the girls a huge boost in confidence and it showed in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Brazil in Penrith.

 

Historically, the Matildas have played well one game and not so well the next. You can’t do that at major tournaments. You need to win six tough games in a row.

 

We’re a true Australian team – we’re fierce, we’re fast, we’re the underdog and we’re hungry. Aussies love that mentality and we’re gaining so much support. The sell-out crowd in Penrith for the Brazil game proves that. Hopefully we get another one in Newcastle.

 

 

END OF THE USA HOODOO

My highlight from the Tournament of Nations was the US game. To beat them for the first time and get the monkey off our back was a huge relief. It was something I felt we’d deserved over the last few years. Things just hadn’t quite gone our way.

 

There are a lot of Australians playing in the National Women’s Soccer League in the States and everyone over there has a lot of respect for us. But the fact that we’ve beaten them now gives us a little edge. I think they’ll go in with a different mindset when we play them next time.

 

On a personal note, scoring the hat-trick against Japan – my first for the Matildas – was very special and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. 

 

I was lucky enough to be involved in our Asian Cup success back in 2010 but for some of the girls, this was their first trophy with the Matildas.

 

It was a great moment … but it was also very awkward. If you’ve seen the ceremony, we all looked like we hadn’t lifted a trophy in quite a while! We’ve definitely got to do a bit of practice for next time.

 

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for celebration. A lot of the girls had to go straight back to their clubs. A few of us sat down later that night and talked about it, but most players and staff had to leave straight away.

 

We don’t really go out and celebrate much in the Matildas anyway. That’s kind of changed over the last few years. We used to do it but as we’ve become a full-time professional team, we’ve decided that it’s best not to do that in camp. We might just have a wine or two at the end of a tournament.

 

 

 

MY FLATMATE IS MY RIVAL

I actually live with a member of the USA team, Kelley O’Hara. There’s a bit of rivalry there. About a week after we got home from the Tournament of Nations we were together watching the athletics world championships. I was supporting Sally Pearson and she was backing all the American athletes. It was ‘Go Australia!’ for me and ‘Go USA!’ for her. Sally won!

 

It’s a bit of fun, more so for other sports than football. There wasn’t much talk after we beat them at the Tournament of Nations. I’m sure there would have been if the result had gone the other way!

 

My highlight from the Tournament of Nations was the US game. To beat them for the first time and get the monkey off our back was a huge relief. It was something I felt we’d deserved over the last few years. Things just hadn’t quite gone our way.

 

I live with a great group of girls. We all play for Sky Blue FC together in New Jersey. It’s myself, Kelley, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle and Nikki Stanton. We live in a big house 500 metres from the beach, so we have a lot of fun.

 

We’re all fostering a dog at the moment. She’s a pitbull mix named Brooklyn. She’d been in the shelter for a long time and needed a release.

 

She’s totally changed my views on pitbulls. She’s so loving and caring and wouldn’t hurt a fly. We’re trying to find her a new home now. She’d make a great family dog because she’s very loyal. If you’re in the States and interested, get in touch!

 

 

BELIEVE IN THE SOCCEROOS

After we won the Tournament of Nations, everyone was talking about us. The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, started following some of the girls on Twitter. There were also athletes from other codes reaching out to congratulate us.

 

Now we’re back in the country, Aussies from all walks of life have been getting on board. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is walking down the street. It’s, ‘Hey, you’re the girl who does the backflip’ or for Tameka Butt it’s, ‘You’re the girl who scored against the US’. It’s been really good for the girls and hopefully that continues.

 

I know a lot more of us have been getting opportunities to be involved with certain brands or to do appearances here and there. People are no longer saying, ‘Oh, they’re crap at soccer’ or ‘They’re women’ … whatever it was.

 

All this attention has been building since the Olympics, when we lost the penalty shootout to Brazil, which was very dramatic. We’ve got to keep everyone engaged, though. We can’t keep having one year up and the next we’re down.

 

I think we’ve had this success at a good time. I’ve been hearing about the Wallabies and Socceroos not doing so well, which is disappointing for the country.

 

We’ve got this thing in Australia sometimes that when people aren’t performing well, we smash them. I’ve been reading some comments about the Socceroos lately. If it was easy to qualify for a World Cup, everyone would be there.

 

Two hundred other nations miss out. Maybe the performances from the Socceroos haven’t been the best to date. But it isn’t easy to qualify through Asia. And it isn’t easy to qualify for a World Cup.

 

To say someone is having a bad game is one thing but to smash them – to say they’re the worst team in years or that ‘Ange has got to go’ – is pretty disrespectful. He’s someone that has done so much for the sport in our country.

 

I think the Socceroos will still qualify. One of the best memories of my life is the night we qualified for the first time in 32 years with that win over Uruguay. Hopefully this time it’s just as dramatic and, like then, we go through.

 

 

 

DANIEL, MY BROTHER

My family is very AFL-centric. My brother Daniel played for the West Coast Eagles and my father also played at the top level with East Fremantle and Port Adelaide. I still love AFL but it meant I grew up in the spotlight. I think it impacted me – in a good way.

 

I saw both the highs and lows of being a professional athlete and someone in the public eye. I saw my brother win a premiership, and that’s all I wanted to do. But my brother has been through a lot of stuff off the field and so has my Dad. That helped me in a way, because it made me think about my choices and what I say in the media.

 

Daniel and I didn’t speak for a few years but we’re really close now. We’re quite similar in that we’re incredibly passionate about what we do. He wasn’t prepared for life after footy and it’s been well documented that he didn’t deal with it well. He’s back on track now.

 

Sometimes you might think that no one cares, but that’s not true. Someone always cares. Sometimes you think you’re trying to do the right thing and someone will twist your words and put something that you didn’t say in the paper.

 

My brother has been through a lot of stuff off the field and so has my Dad. That helped me in a way, because it made me think about my choices and what I say in the media.

 

I learned that it’s about representing yourself well. It’s also about representing your team, your club and your country well. I think there’s even more of a responsibility to do that with the Matildas than in the AFL, because it is the world game and people all over the world care about it.

 

I wanted to play AFL as a kid growing up. But not now. It’s great the AFLW is in place, but money can’t buy the experience of playing in a World Cup or an Olympics. I’m more than happy where I am.

 

One thing I’ve noticed since the Tournament of Nations is that the media attention has increased a lot. That’s been great but it’s also a new challenge for all Matildas because it hasn’t always been that way.

 

 

PRESSURE & EXPECTATIONI’m feeling confident and relaxed. I’m enjoying my football right now, which is the most important thing to me, but people think that when you’re scoring goals it’s all happiness. There’s an added pressure now. People expect me to score.

 

I didn’t score in the last two games in the US and I’ve been agitated, feeling that I let my team down. You have to find a way to deal with that pressure. It was great to get one against Brazil on Saturday.

 

We’re really lucky with the Matildas. We’ve just had a sports psychologist, Kate Wensley, join the team. Kate came on board before the Tournament of Nations. We all had one-on-ones with her. It really helped. It’s a release. It’s nice to have someone from outside football that you can say anything to and it’s confidential. I don’t think Alen Stajcic, our coach, expected that she would be such a big help to this team. I’ve used her a lot already and I’ll continue to do so during each camp.

 

I’d be lying if I said I don’t expect myself to score every game but I know that’s not a goal I can achieve. It’s not possible. So it’s about finding that balance of being OK with my game even when I don’t score.

 

 

 

RONALDO & THE INSURANCE POLICY

I’d heard some whispers about the Best FIFA Women’s Player award nomination – people were asking me whether I would get the nod or not. You’re never quite sure. It’s hard to know whether you’re being talked about in Europe when you play on other continents.

 

My teammates have thrown a lot of support behind me since it was announced. It’s nice to feel the love from them, especially when a few of them could have been nominated as well.

 

To even be mentioned in the same sentence as some of those girls is a huge honour. Carli Lloyd has won it twice before and Jodie Taylor has been a great player for England. There’s still another cut coming up. We’ll see. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

 

I don’t think I’ll win it. I think it will go to Lieke Martens from Holland. She won ‘player of the tournament’ at the Euros. I’d love to be one of the three finalists, though. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about being there on the night and meeting Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

I call him The Insurance Policy. He just scores all the time and I strive to be like him, someone my team can rely on. Maybe off the field he’s not the person some people want him to be but he’s my idol. It would be great to meet Lionel Messi and all the other greats as well.

 

 

MY TEAM, MY FAMILY

I’m lucky to play in such a great national team. We’re all really close and I know from other girls around the world that some national teams don’t have the family vibe that we do. I’d do anything for these girls, on or off the field.

 

I’ve grown up with this team. I’ve known some of them for ten years. That’s almost half my life! The experiences we’ve had have only made us grow closer.

 

We’re a true Australian team – we’re fierce, we’re fast, we’re the underdog and we’re hungry. Aussies love that mentality and we’re gaining so much support. The sell-out crowd in Penrith for the Brazil game proves that.

 

This generation is the strongest team I’ve been a part of. We’ve always been a team that respects the past and would never talk down another generation.

 

But, right now, I think we might have up to nine players that can be talked about as being among the best in the world. There are Matildas all over the planet, playing in the best leagues, for the best teams.

 

I guess you could call it a golden generation but for me it’s about remaining super competitive in the coming years.

 

 

MISSING HOME

I’m a bit of a home body. The biggest downside of playing professionally is that I’ve got to play overseas. Hopefully one day the W-League is all year round and I won’t have to.

 

It brings a tear to my eye. I miss things like spending time with my Nan, who is getting old. I’ve only just met my niece, Luka, for the first time this weekend.

 

I come from a huge family. My mum is one of ten and my Dad is one of six. To be missing out on so much family stuff is hard. That’s the life of a professional athlete. I’m lucky I have such great support from my family.

 

I can’t wait to get home to see my dog, Billie. She’s a boxer and I love her to death. She might be my favourite thing about being home.

 

Sam Kerr  -  Founding Contributor