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The Women’s World Cup dream might be over, but Matildas fandom will never die.
While the Australian team might have failed to achieve their goal of lifting the trophy, they conquered the hearts of fans of every stripe across Australia.
A modest number of fans trekked to Melbourne’s AAMI Park, joining a scattered crowd to watch the national team secure fourth place in the play-off against Sweden, going down 2-0.
Recent Matildas convert Lenny Daymond, 8, and mother Claudia came in to Melbourne from Mount Martha, having witnessed Germany crush Morocco at AAMI Park earlier in the tournament.
Lenny has been playing soccer since he was “about two” but wasn’t a huge Matildas fan until the World Cup. He said Sam Kerr was his favourite player but that (due to injury) she hadn’t given him his favourite World Cup moment.
“Probably Courtnee Vine winning us the penalty shootout,” he said.
Lenny Daymond, 8, and his mum Claudia watched the Matildas play Sweden at the AAMI Park live site. Credit: Chris Hopkins
Bastien, 14, and Xavier, 15 were also at AAMI for the Matildas’ last World Cup match with their mum, Rachael Feilso, a FIFA volunteer.
Bastien, a striker for Ringwood City who has played soccer for seven years, said all of his schoolmates had become obsessed with the World Cup. “There’s been a couple of my friends who don’t normally watch sport at all but they’re watching, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Xavier said that when he had started playing soccer 10 years ago, most of his friends were playing AFL. “It’s definitely changing. It used to be all about footy because no one really watched soccer. But it’s only been getting better.”
He nominated his favourite player as Mackenzie Arnold because she was a goalkeeper
Bastien Feilso and his brother Xavier with their mum Rachael.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Rachael said she and the boys would keep on backing the Matildas well beyond the end of the World Cup.
“It’s been really great to see so many people – boys, men, women – everyone here to support (the Matildas), see the stadium full every game. It has been amazing,” she said.
Earlier, across town at the East Bentleigh Soccer Club – where Matildas star Steph Catley joined as a six-year-old – parents and junior members were similarly full of enthusiasm.
Parent Brett Smith said seeing both boys and girls get behind the national team was a wonderful experience.
Young players from the East Bentleigh soccer club have barracked for the Matildas.Credit: Eddie Jim
“For the first time ever, boys have been so engaged,” he said. “What we need now is for our local council to support us and to prioritise building facilities that support women – as our current facilities don’t.”
Isabella Polyviou, 10, said watching the Matildas had been “the best”.
“When we lost to England I was very disappointed and hurting. Then for some reason I felt happy because we made it so far in the competition. They are an inspiration for the future generation,” she said.
Leni Salvati, 10, said she felt she could play better after watching the Matildas. “It has inspired our team to play more passionately.”
When The Sunday Age visited soccer fanatic Orlando Rizzi, 11, in Preston during the tournament, he said he had watched some Matildas games before, but that the World Cup really got his attention. He even attended one of the Melbourne matches with his dad.
“It’s not really men’s football or women’s football: I think it’s just good football,” he said.
Reflecting on the Matildas’ journey, Orlando was still full of praise. “They showed the country not only how to win but how to lose with grace,” he said.
“I think the Matildas have proven to Australia that women’s sport is just as thrilling as men’s. They have made us proud.”
Spencer, 10, and Beau Brice, 7, were initially not impressed when their mother told them they were going to watch a TV show about women’s soccer.
“They basically told me: ‘Oh, we don’t watch girl sport’,” their mother, Maddie Marsh, recalled. “And I said, ah, yes we do.”
Spencer added: “One good thing is … in the men’s World Cup, they don’t really have a chance of winning but in the women’s they do.”
Matildas fans Spencer Brice and his brother Beau.Credit: James Brickwood
“It is good that people have come all around Australia to watch the Matildas games to support them.”
Back at AAMI Park, Noni Mykyta, 10, was an enthusiastic fan among a dedicated crowd.
A Sunshine Heights Junior Soccer Club player for three seasons, Noni said she’d loved the Matildas at the start of the tournament – but that she loved them even more now.
Noni and her friends got together to form the first Sunshine Heights junior girls team, and she doesn’t expect they’ll have any trouble recruiting for next season after the success of the Matildas.
“Five of my best friends are in the team. We train twice a week and play on Sundays,” she said.
Is Noni going to be a Matilda? “Yeah, definitely!”
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