The Australian women’s football team emerged from Olympic qualifiers against Iran, the Philippines, and Taiwan with three wins, three clean sheets, and a highlight reel of 13 goals.
Another encouraging metric was the 97,000 fans who flocked to the games in Perth, months after the Matildas drew massive crowds at the home World Cup during their semifinal run.
With huge demand for tickets, Football Australia shifted the second qualifier against the Philippines to the 60,000-seat Perth Stadium and was rewarded as 59,155 turned up to watch the home side hammer the Southeast Asians 8-0.
It was the largest football crowd recorded at the nearly six-year-old venue and a record for an Australian women’s sporting game outside of the Olympics and World Cup.
Football Australia (FA) promised the World Cup would deliver a legacy for women’s football in the country that would be felt long after the tournament, having seen the spark lit by the women’s Euros in England.
On the strength of Perth, the governing body will be confident the tournament and the “Matildas effect” have staying power.
Finishing top of Group A in Asian qualifying, Australia will battle Uzbekistan in a two-legged playoff in February for a place in next year’s Paris Olympics.
FA is already thinking about venues for the second leg at home on February 28.
“We’ll be looking for the biggest stadiums available for the Matildas to play in,” said FA boss James Johnson.
Topping global pop star Taylor Swift, who plays multiple shows at the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground in February, might be beyond even the Matildas’ pulling power.
But the team’s record crowd of 75,784 at the World Cup may be under threat if the same venue is available.
Captain and striker Sam Kerr slotted five goals in the qualifiers, including a hat-trick against the Philippines.
A wonder goal from Mary Fowler capped off a thrilling week for home fans as the 20-year-old talent fired a long-range rocket home against Taiwan.
With modest professional leagues and a constant talent drain to overseas teams in the US, Europe and England, local football has long coveted the exposure hogged by rival Australian Rules football and rugby league.
However, with Fowler emerging as a goal-scoring successor to the prolific Kerr, Football Australia may feel the future is bright.
“How am I going to keep the expectations down on that one now,” Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson told reporters of Fowler.
“When she pulls off that goal tonight, it’s what we see in training every day. Left foot, right foot, inside of the foot, laces, clipped balls, anything.
“Her finishing is one of a kind.”
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