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I received a text message on Monday morning, right after my live blog of the thrilling draw between the Matildas and the USA.
It was potentially the deciding match in the Tournament of Nations, an event that might just be here to stay if the quality of football and enthusiasm of the fans is anything to go by.
The text was from my mother. It read as follows.
“Wow, what a great game, unlucky at the end. Better than the blokes, what’s wrong with them?”
Now to fully appreciate the context let me explain her football background and knowledge. She only knows Tim Cahill, has never seen me play a competitive match and prefers tennis. She is a widow now and, after playing the role of full-time carer for some time, is enjoying travel and hobbies more than ever.
It appears watching early morning football matches has become one of those hobbies.
Of course I could have responded and explained the difficulty in making comparisons between the men’s and women’s game. It would have been easy to talk about the relative competitive depths of the two or the benefit that the W-League has had on the development of our local female players.
I didn’t, and attempting to do so may have proven a futile exercise. While I may have been enthusiastic in the conveyance of the information, I can’t help but think my mother’s eyes may have glazed over.
What the message did do was remind me again of the quality in the Matildas squad and what it is that they do so well. Their play, attitude and structures do in fact tell something of an educative story to any team hoping to topple the best of the best.
After years of comprehensive losses to the USA, the team has improved to the point where the Americans are seriously threatened. The improvement was noticeable in the friendlies against Brazil in 2017 on home soil as well as during the Tournament of Nations one year ago.
So what exactly is fuelling this meteoric rise to the top of world football and in turn sees our national team as a real threat at the World Cup in France next year?
1. Sam Kerr
Shortlisted for FIFA’s best female footballer of the year and a seriously good bet to win it, Kerr is a flat-out star. She is precisely what the Socceroos long for up front: a player capable of the astonishing on their own and one who opens up opportunities for the supporting cast, such is the attention they draw from defenders.
Kerr is the sister of former West Coast Eagles AFL player Daniel Kerr and grew up with that code as her focus until around the age of 12, and as with many of the greats, they are found rather than developed. All Kerr needed was some fine-tuning and her raw athleticism and ability did the rest.
Twenty-four national goals at senior level, 67 caps and a reputation as one of the best players of the current era is a remarkable list of achievements for a woman not yet 25.
2. An assured defence
Alan Stajcic has built a committed and assured wall in the Matildas defensive area that rarely produces diabolical errors or indecision. Alana Kennedy, Ellie Carpenter and co were tested against the USA on Monday and answered every challenge bar a 19th-minute corner.
More than the scoreline, it is the way they defend that impresses; selfless, confident and decisive. The Socceroos have grappled with back three and four combinations over the last few years and, aside from Trent Sainsbury and Aziz Behich, are yet to find five or six ever-reliable men for the job. Josh Risdon is a work in progress, unlike the Australian women at the back, who are now polished international performers.
3. Poise and magic on the ball
Australia’s goal against the USA contained another clear example of just what makes this Matildas team so effective. When Lisa De Vanna turned her defender with dextrous skill, ran through the centre of midfield and slid a deftly weighted ball to Chloe Logarzo to score it reminded me of the excitement around Daniel Arzani.
Supporters of the Socceroos had been licking their lips waiting for the Melbourne City wonder kid to make his debut, knowing that he brings a rare ability to run at defenders and maintain possession in the process. He is the epitome of possession with purpose. The Matildas have it in spades with De Vanna, Hayley Raso and Kerr blessed with a similar quality.
4. Young stars
The W-League keeps producing. It was interesting to hear the American commentator lauding the competition as potentially the best in the world. That is a debate for another day, yet the conveyor belt of talent coming through from the junior levels is considerable.
Mixed with experience in the form of Tameka Butt, Lydia Williams, Claire Polkinghorne and De Vanna, the young stars just keep coming, and Stajcic has a tough task finding them regular game time.
Kerr, Hayley Raso, Logarzo, Carpenter and the next wave threatening to emerge – see Mary Fowler – creates constant regeneration, and no doubt within 12 months there will be new names looming into selection contention.
So, mum, yes – you are right, the girls are outperforming the boys right now and there are some pretty obvious reasons why.
Who knows, depending on what happens at the World Cup next year, we may one day look back on the Matildas of today and label them a ‘golden generation’.