The Matildas have battled out a goalless draw with in-form Sweden to boost their morale heading into the Olympics next month.
It was 26 years ago today, on the 8 June 1995, in the Swedish lakeside town of Vasteras – in front of only 1,500 people – where Angela Iannotta wrote herself into Australian football folklore.
The Myrtleford-born and Albury-raised striker, the daughter of Italian immigrants, netted in the 25th minute of Australia’s second match of the 1995 Women’s World Cup against China. It was the first goal Australia had ever scored at a World Cup – men’s or women’s.
It was a moment Iannotta would cherish, however little did she realise how significant a part it would play for the rest of her life. In fact, she didn’t even realise the significance of the moment for Australian football until many years later.
“26 years ago? Wow time flies, it feels like only yesterday,” reminisces Iannotta from her home in Tuscany, Italy where she has lived for the past 20 years. “I actually didn’t know at that moment that I had scored Australia’s first ever goal at a World Cup. In fact, I only realised a few years later.
“I remember we were losing 1-0 against China. Back in the 90s, China were one of the strongest teams. I remember a missed pass from a Chinese defender, I took a forward touch and then kicked this great shot in the top corner. Unfortunately, we lost 4-2.”
While the memory from so long ago is still fresh in her mind, Iannotta has lived quite the life beyond that historical occasion.
She currently competes in triathlons and iron-woman events across Italy. A sporting life story that started with football.
First moving to her native Italy in the early 1990s, Iannotta travelled back and forth between Australia, Japan and Italy from 1992 to 1999 as she tried to build a professional career at a time when women’s football struggled to attain a profile.
She was one of Australia’s most talented but unluckiest footballers, with her career often cruelly interrupted by injury. However, she still earned 33 caps for the Matildas, netting 10 goals, including that iconic strike in Vasteras.
She also featured at the 1999 World Cup in the USA, but unluckily missed out on the Sydney 2000 Olympic team.
With the Matildas, Iannotta travelled to places like Sweden, Japan, Brasil, North Korea, New Zealand, Portugal, USA, Canada and Scotland.
Her domestic career famously included being the first Australian woman to win an Italian League title, achieving the feat with ACF Agliana in 1994/95 alongside legendary Italian striker Carolina Morace, widely regarded as one of the best footballers to lace a boot.
She admits her world wide experience led her to have some amazing adventures.
“In Italy I learned the real culture of football. In Japan, an amazing culture and beautiful people, we ate interesting food and had enjoyable training methods.
“I’ve had some fun trips with the Matildas. All the stories of the things we got up to. Brazil was fun and I’ll never forget the North Korea tour. Some very interesting memories. I can’t understand how a country still lives in those conditions.
“My playing history though started in Australia with many ups and downs, but I’ve learnt to never give up. You train hard, play easy and enjoy the game.
“I had many memorable moments during my career, including that goal in Sweden in 1995.”
Before her date with destiny, Iannotta learned her footballing skills in the exact way you’d expect from the humble daughter of an Italian working class family… kicking a ball on the streets with other local kids.
“A few months ago I was thinking about my soccer childhood, I remembered being in Italy in the late 70s with my family, we stayed in Naples for a month and all these kids…they call them ‘scugnizzi’…were playing soccer in the middle of the streets and my brothers and I would go and join in. I remember playing for hours!
“When we returned to Australia, all I wanted to do was play soccer. My brothers played and I wanted to also, but being a girl my father said that ‘girls don’t play soccer’ and I wasn’t allowed.
“But when I went to high school, my teacher Rick Porter came home and spoke to my father and told him that he should let me play, and that I was a young natural talent.
“My father eventually said yes and I was the happiest little girl. My childhood memories playing in Albury-Wodonga are probably the best moments of my life. Just growing up thinking about the next training session and the next game. Something you can’t explain.
“It’s weird how throughout your life, little things come back to your mind.”
Iannotta has had plenty of time to reminisce in recent months as Italy was plunged into lockdown as COVID19 ravaged the country. She admits it has been challenging but is confident her adoptive country will bounce back.
“The pandemic has been hard for everyone. I haven’t been working for seven months. But I officially start again on the 21st of June.
“I’ve been training all these months for a half iron-woman I’m doing in September, so my mind has been occupied. My training kept me going as it’s also an anti-stress mechanism.
“So yes it has been hard! I’m sure we will overcome this situation and life will be normal again. Always be positive!”
Despite her upbeat attitude, Iannotta admits her love for her homeland still burns strong, hinting she may be back sooner rather than later.
“I have lived in Tuscany for the last 20 years, San Benedetto del Tronto in the region of Marche. I have loved living here, but my heart is calling or me to go home. I do miss Australia very much.”
Even though she has long retired from elite level football, Iannotta still follows the Matildas closely. She is excited by the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but it’s the 2023 World Cup being hosted by Australia and New Zealand that brings the biggest smile to her face.
“One word to describe it…Fantastic! I want to see the best of the Matildas! Good luck to Tony Gustavsson and the team. Make us proud and be World Cup winners on our own soil!”
Surprisingly, Iannotta is yet to be inducted into the Football Australia Hall of Fame, an honour many believe should be hers but one she doesn’t appear to be phased about missing out on…after all she will always have that magical moment in Vestaras.