The Matildas were always going to be under pressure in this tournament – pressure to perform, pressure to succeed, pressure to defy the odds against bigger teams with bigger budgets and resources.
But like captain Sam Kerr said in the lead up to the tournament – “pressure is a privilege”.
It’s hard to think of a national team in Australian sporting history which had more pressure on it than the Matildas have had in recent weeks.
Before the tournament even began, fans called for a national holiday to be declared if the Matildas went all the way.
The odds were arguably stacked against them, with a difficult group and a tough bracket. While only the most hopeful thought it was a possibility prior to the tournament (and likely only those with the most belief clung onto it after the 3-2 loss to Nigeria), there were hundreds of renewed calls for it in the lead up to last night’s semi-final.
We might never know if it would have eventuated, but there is still an opportunity to put the funding that would have gone behind a public holiday into the game.
Australian footballing legends Melissa Barbieri and Archie Thompson dismissed the shouts for the public holiday, instead calling for proper funding of the game – particularly at a grassroots and community level through to the A-League Women. Barbieri spoke out, saying that the minimum wage of $25,000 “is not OK”.
The outcome of this World Cup is still to be decided, but the results from the viewing numbers of the knockout games and sales of Matildas merchandise are to be applauded.
An estimated 11.15 million people tuned into the game, eclipsing the record set in the quarterfinal, making it the highest watched event since the OzTAM audience measurement tool began in 2001.
On the merchandise front, Rebel Sports outlets reported being sold out of scarfs days before the semi-final. Prior to the tournament starting, Matildas jerseys also outsold the Socceroos’ total jersey numbers for the 2022 Men’s World Cup.
The viewership and merchandise numbers say it all – that people want to watch and support this team.
While the public holiday campaign potentially started as a joke, the momentum it picked up had financial benefits for the game. Prior to the results of last night’s game, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas announced that the state would not go ahead with the public holiday, instead investing $18 million into grant programs over three years to support female sporting facilities and growing female participation. $10 million of that will specifically go to football.
These funding measures are a welcome first step in cementing this historic World Cup’s legacy. England’s win at the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022 resulted in £600 million being pledged towards girls playing football in schools. If Australia wants to compete in World Cups for years to come, they will need to be able to compete with these resources too.
Australian coach Tony Gustavsson highlighted the difference between the Australian and English federations.
“I think someone told me that the women’s program in the women’s FA have the same budget as all national teams in our FA,” he said in a press conference earlier this week.
The funding off the pitch is creating imbalances on it.
Football Australia’s Legacy ‘23 strategic plan aims to make sure that after the final ball is kicked and whistle is blown, the next generation of Matildas-in-waiting will have the opportunities they deserve so we can look for World Cup success in years to come.
The pressure is now off the players for what they’ve done on the pitch and the pressure is on everyone else. What legacy will come out of this World Cup and what should Australia’s football future look like?
With the A-League Women season starting soon, there’s still plenty of football in Australia this year.
While the hunt for World Cup glory may be over, the Matildas are still in contention for one more trophy as they take on Sweden in the third place playoff.
The calls for a public holiday may no longer be as vocal, so the players can now shut out the noise knowing that if they win on Saturday, it is not tied to the country getting a day off. Pressure subsided.
Georgia Rajic is a football commentator. Follow her on Twitter @georgjar