Matildas fall short on mother of all rollercoaster rides

Joey Peters on 26 June 2019

Australia believed they could go far in this World Cup, maybe even all the way. Belief has been a wonderful narrative around the Matildas for many years and, since tasting success with Australia’s first major silverware at the 2010 Asian Cup, this team cannot be faulted for believing they can do anything.

This tournament brought with it the highest expectations, given the Matildas’ consistent progression up the world rankings, their previous three quarter-final appearances, and the most exciting and cohesive playing group yet. We were perhaps lured into a presumption that this team would take the next step and reach a semi-final and a podium finish.

But was there too much expectation put on their shoulders? My response to that would be: can you ever have enough?

There’s nothing wrong with heightened expectations, other than realising that’s all it is. Wanting to achieve the best is fine, but it’s unrealistic if you think that means it is going to happen.

Nothing should surprise in football any more. Looking beyond shock results, refereeing decisions and the use of VAR have confounded us throughout this tournament, as did the behaviour of Cameroon’s players in their game against England.

But for the Matildas this campaign will surely be remembered as the mother of all rollercoaster rides. The high point can be pinpointed at the courageous comeback against Brazil – not only a comeback from 2-0 down, but also from the shock of the opening defeat to Italy and from previous struggles tracing back to the qualifying tournament a year earlier.

Sam Kerr’s four-goal masterclass against Jamaica showed the belief was still there and suggested the Matildas were finding their mojo again.

The next and final twist of the rollercoaster came with the biggest thrill of all: extra-time and a penalty shootout. It was perhaps a fitting end to such a turbulent ride, but credit should be given to Norway who were a tactically superior opponent on the day.

Judging by the progression of Europeans teams into the knockout rounds, strategical problem-solving capabilities appear to now be the difference between the good and great teams of women’s football.

If we can learn anything from this campaign, it is not to take anything for granted; world rankings, refereeing decisions, who is currently coach, what or who has gone before.

As long as a dream is alive and well, Australia is an optimistic country. But after defeat? The nation’s tendency is to move on, perhaps indicated by the early morning flights booked from France for most. But it was pleasing to see that some players stayed on – to reflect, to come together and, instead of running away, to face their demons.

Winning does not always happen on the pitch. Victories can also be seen away from the field of play – in leadership, change and innovation. Ada Hegerberg is a winner, even though she was not part of the Norway side that ended Australian hopes. And this World Cup has shown how to stand up and speak up – and for women across the globe how to take their rightful place as equals.

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