Australia launched their World Cup on home soil with jubilation and fervor

The Matildas won against Ireland at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium for their opening game on Thursday.

It’s a collective cry of joy that echoed through the Sydney night. At the final whistle in the match between Australia and Ireland, the eleven players on the grass and the tens of thousands of fans packed into the bays let their joy explode. THE Matilda started their World Cup in the best possible way on Thursday 20 July, winning against Ireland in front of a record crowd (75,784 spectators) and a fantastic atmosphere, for a historic evening.

Three hours before kick-off, under the setting sun, while the doors weren’t yet open, the first fans had begun to invest the square of Stadium Australia, located in Sydney’s large Olympic Park. Like Josh, who follows the Matilda for ten years. “It’s historic, we’ve been waiting for it for a long time. It will be great to have so many people”he tasted.

Throughout the evening there was a wave of yellow jerseys, jackets and even plaids to protect against the cold (10 degrees at kick-off), which surrounded the box. Not necessarily large gatherings, but many small groups ready to raise their voices and sing, in front of the cameras, Irish fans, or compatriots.

“Amazing to have 75,000 people to push behind us”

No bad news, nor the announcement of Sam Kerr’s injury, the withdrawal for his first two matches, nor the mention of the shooting of the same morning in Auckland, which hosted the inaugural match at the home of the New Zealand co-host, could cool the heat at home hearts. Among all the fans crossed around the Stadium Australia, same speech: a drama “terrible”a “thinking about families”But “No problem” and a focus on “the positive to come”.

The crowd at Stadium Australia before the World Cup match between Australia and Ireland on July 20, 2023 in Sydney.  (DAVID GRAY / AFP)

In the spans, the public Australian it was heard with big olas, at player entrances and at kickoffs. Probably the most amazing moment was when the national anthem started, it was amazing to see so many Australians coming together.”entrusted in the mixed area to the attacker Cortnee Vine. If it wasn’t so noisy throughout the match, the crowd was ready to celebrate the recoveries and displays of strength of its players. Stadium Australia exploded for the first time after getting the penalty, converted by the captain of the evening Steph Catley (51st). The Arsenal player made no mistake and led the whole group to celebrate the goal at the foot of the lateral stand.

It came on a second time at the announcement of the evening crowd. And for a final recovery at the end of the game, after the last ten minutes where the Australians had been cornered and in apnea. “It was incredible to have 75,000 people behind us, especially in those difficult last minutes.”recognized the Australian coach, Tony Gustavsson, in a press conference, thanking the fans. “I always said it was an adventure at 23, but tonight the crowd was the 24th player with us.”

A change of stadium to meet the demand for attendance

Everything had been done to keep the fever going around the start of the race Matilda. At the end of January, FIFA announced that the first game on Australian soil, initially planned for the Sydney Football Stadium (42,500 capacity), would finally be played at Stadium Australia, hitherto scheduled for the finals, in order to meet ticket demand. “It shows the confidence we have in the team to attract a huge crowd for the first game on Australian soil.”James Johnson, the president of Football Australia, then reacted.

Matildas supporters Cassai, Karen, Katie and Alex before their World Cup match against Ireland, 20th July 2023, in Sydney.  (MAYLICE LAVOREL / FRANCEINFO SPORTS)

Six months later, the crowd was 75,784, breaking the attendance record for a match at the Matilda home set last week against the Bleues (50,629 at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne). “It’s a great time for Australian women’s football, if you think back to the years when hardly anyone came, it’s crazy to see everyone tonight”appreciated early Cassai, surrounded by her friends around the stadium. “We all played football, fought for tickets and to be there tonight, to experience this moment live.”

A discipline that is not always in the spotlight

The event is all the more significant as women’s soccer, and soccer in general, sometimes struggles to exist in the galaxy of popular sports in Australia. “It’s almost a niche. National teams and clubs have always struggled to build and maintain a fan base, loyal fans”, deciphers Angela Christian-Wilkes, writer specializing in Australian women’s football. Also, in the evening crowd, rugby and AFL club shirts juxtaposed with Kerr and Carpenter’s flocked tunics.

If it is the most practiced sport in the country, according to the latest data from the Australian Sports Commission AusPlay (more than one million players, including 500,000 licensees in 2021 according to the Australian Federation), it is not surrounded by the same enthusiasm and passion as cricket, rugby, or even “footy”, Australian rules football. “The fact that 80,000 people want to see a football match, men or women for that matter, shows that there is interest, a demand”explains Angela Christian-Wilkes.

Try again, if needed, the three group matches of Matilda they are already sold out. And given the atmosphere and emotion at the end of the meeting, the state of grace is enough to last a few more weeks, at least.

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