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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Football fever grips Australia as Matildas’ adventures continue

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The largest crowd to watch a sporting event in Australia since Sydney 2000

The FIFA Women’s World Cup has had an enormous impact on the Australian football public, with the quarter-final against France becoming the most watched sports event since the Sydney Olympics.

Nothing evokes emotions like football, and no event heightens those emotions like a World Cup.

Millions of Australians discovered that on Saturday night as the Matildas defeated France in a penalty shootout for the ages.

Twenty out of the 22 players on the pitch were required to step up for the ultimate test of mettle. Can you imagine the pressure of taking a spot kick for a place at a FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final? The crowd barely able to watch. The noise. The roar.

Australian forward Cortnee Vine could scarcely believe what had happened. Speaking to the media after scoring the match-winning penalty, the look on her face said it all – excitement, relief and every emotion possible.

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“It looks like it’s a footballing nation,” she exclaimed. “I think the whole Australian public has really started to become a footballing nation. I think you can tell from tonight that we are, and it’s amazing.”

Something special is happening in Australia. This is a country where the sports media cycle is dominated by Australian rules football and rugby league, and where the round ball game is often relegated to an afterthought.

But now, in a wave that is building faster than anyone could have imagined, football is the only subject on everyone’s lips.

There are tangible numbers that can describe the cut-through of the quarter-final against France.

Nearly 50,000 were in the stands at Brisbane Stadium, while 7.2 million people tuned in to watch the match on Seven – the largest figures for an Australian sporting event since Cathy Freeman ran her iconic race at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

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The Matildas also occupied the front and back page of every major newspaper in the country.

Yet, just as important when understanding the fever-pitch that Australia is reaching are the intangibles.

From Tasmania to the Northern Territory, from dedicated live sites to flights 38,000 feet in the air, people were tuning in. Fans attending games of different sporting codes packed the concourses of stadiums, desperate to get a glimpse of the penalties.

You could tell the result of a spot kick walking down the streets of cities by the cheers or groans of the people echoing out from houses and bars.

This is the biggest week in Australian football history, and it is being driven by the women’s game.

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Many point to parallels with John Aloisi’s penalty that helped the Socceroos qualify for the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006. This generation of players grew up screaming Aloisi’s name after scoring penalties in the backyard and at school. The next generation will grow up doing the same for Vine.

The legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is something that Australia and New Zealand have been contemplating and preparing for from the moment that the bid was won.

In a country where rugby union rules, New Zealand have perhaps had an even tougher task for eyeballs than their neighbours, but the sight of a sold-out semi-final between Spain and Sweden will quell any doubts about the engagement of Kiwis in the tournament.

For Australia, the historic run by their team – once recognised as the most loved in the country – has fully enraptured the country. Men, women and children, whether they have previously been football fans or not, have been spellbound.

“We played a quarter-final against an entire nation,” France coach Herve Renard reflected after their quarter-final defeat. Watching the videos, seeing the reactions and hearing the noise in the stands, it is difficult to disagree.

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Perhaps most exciting is the fact that this is a team with two games still to play. That penalty shoot-out was special, but it could get even bigger. In cafes, on buses, in their workplaces, Australians are wondering out loud: what if we won the whole thing?

This is not a country that is used to success in football on the international stage. It is barely used to the global game receiving attention at all. To be so tantalisingly close to the biggest prize in football is mind-blowing. The momentum is building with every game, and one can only imagine the heights it will scale if the Matildas can overcome European champions England on Wednesday.

Millions of Australians have experienced for the first time what only a World Cup can give you. The excitement. The nerves. The tension. The explosion of joy, unbridled. The devastation on the other side. It is the reason why the game is played. It is the reason why it is beloved.

Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold – who made three saves in the shootout, and was named VISA Player of the Match – was understandably emotional after the victory.

“This is a night that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. It’s so special to be able to share this with Australia,” she said, through bleary eyes.

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The match against England will be enormous for all sorts of reasons. But if you want to understand the impact that this tournament has already had, you only needed to head to a community ground on Sunday morning. You needed to watch as a youngster took a deep breath and lined up to score what might be the first penalty of their lives. You needed to watch as they peeled away, celebrating in the vein of Vine.

“This has to be our year,” the newly crowned national hero exclaimed after the match. Record numbers of Australians will be hoping she is right.

There really is nothing like football.

-FIFA

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Colombia 2024: Danjuma invites 32 as countdown begins to Final Tournament

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Flying Eagles, Falconets To Resume Camp On Thursday -

With just eight weeks to their first match of the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Colombia 2024, Head Coach Chris Musa Danjuma has called up four goalkeepers, eight defenders, eight midfielders and 12 strikers to a training camp in the Federal Capital, Abuja in the first phase of preparation for the global tournament.

Team captain Oluchi Ohaegbulem is top of the list, with first-choice goalkeeper Faith Omilana, defenders Shukurat Oladipo and Comfort Folorunsho, midfielders Chinyere Kalu, Adoo Yina and Rofiat Imuran, and forwards Janet Akekoromowei, Flourish Sabastine and Aminat Bello also called.

Nigeria, a fixture at the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup finals since the tournament began as an U19 event in Canada 22 years ago, will contend with three-time winners Germany, Asian powerhouse Korea Republic and South American representatives Venezuela in group D of the competition scheduled for three Colombian cities, 31st August – 22nd September.

All the invited are expected at Serob Legacy Hotel, Wuye, Abuja on Sunday, 7th July.

ALL THE INVITED PLAYERS:

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Goalkeepers: Anderline Mgbechi (Delta Queens); Rachael Unachukwu (Nasarawa Amazons); Faith Omilana (Naija Ratels); Shukura Bakare (Nasarawa Amazons)

Defenders: Oluchi Ohaegbulem (Nasarawa Amazons); Jumoke Alani (Nasarawa Amazons); Shukurat Oladipo (FC Robo Queens); Oluwabunmi Oladeji (Naija Ratels); Folashade Adegbemile (Delta Queens); Chidera Okenwa (Delta Queens); Comfort Folorunsho (Edo Queens); Taiwo Lawal

Midfielders: Adoo Yina (Nasarawa Amazons); Olushola Shobowale (Nasarawa Amazons); Aminat Folorunsho (Rivers Angels); Chioma Olise (Edo Queens); Chinyere Kalu (Nasarawa Amazons); Joy Igbokwe (Naija Ratels); Rofiat Imuran (Stade de Reims, France); Zikora Agama (Naija Ratels)

Forwards: Delight Nwosu (Dannaz Ladies); Adaobi Okah (Remo Stars Ladies); Chiamaka Okwuchukwu (Rivers Angels); Chinaza Agoh (Delta Queens); Mary Nkpa (Heartland Queens); Chiamaka Osigwe (Edo Queens); Janet Akekoromowei (Asisat Academy); Mary Offor (Adamawa Queens); Flourish Sabastine (Stade de Reims, France); Sharon Ulumma (Heartland Queens); Aminat Bello (Otero College, USA); Reilly Adebowale (Bohemian FC, Republic of Ireland)   

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Nigeria’s Flamingos drawn against debuting hosts in FIFA U-17 World Cup

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The Flamingos, Nigeria’s U-17 women’s football team have been drawn against hosts, Dominican Republic for the finals of the Women’s U-17 World Cup holding from 16 October to 3 November in two host cities of Santo Domingo  and Santiago de los Caballeros.

 Both Nigeria and Dominican Republic are drawn in Group A along with Ecuador and New Zealand.  In Group B are Spain, USA, Korea Republic and Colombia.

Group C has  Korea DPR, Mexico, Kenya and England while those competing in Group D are  Japan , Poland, Brazil and Zambia.

The hosts will make their debut in the competition on 16 October against Ecuador in Santiago de los Caballeros, with New Zealand and Nigeria completing Group A.

Herrera, the first Dominican woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, had a special message for her compatriots taking part in the World Cup. She said: “I am the living example that you can achieve your dreams. So, keep up the good work. I am looking forward to seeing those amazing games.”

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Reigning champions Spain, meanwhile, will kick off their campaign in Group B, in which they will face USA, Korea Republic and Colombia, runners-up last time around.

“The advice to all the players that will participate here is to be confident and go live your dream. ¡Y Buena suerte!” said Flores, who took part in this tournament two years ago in India.

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Dominican Republic 2024:Flamingos land in the Dominican Republic!

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Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos, have secured their ticket to the 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in the Dominican Republic later this year, after a 2-0 defeat of their Liberian counterparts at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday.

Victory took the aggregate tally to 6-1 in favour of Nigeria, with extraordinary poacher Harmony Chidi setting a record of 13 goals in a qualifying series that will be difficult to equal in years to come. She had 11 goals before kick-off, but netted the two goals of the evening to take Nigeria’s total of the series to a whopping 25. Central African Republic fell by a dozen goals while Burkina Faso fell 1-7 on aggregate.

Her first came after only four minutes when she sped past the Liberian defence to toe-poke the ball beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Makula Konneh from a cross by Shakirat Moshood.

A goal feast was expected, but this did not happen, as Peace Effiong had a close call in the 17th and Moshood rocked the crossbar a minute after from 20 yards. Moshood also missed from close range with 10 minutes left of the first half.

In the 56th minute, Moshood blasted beyond the goalpost when faced with Konneh, but Harmony Chidi made sure of her brace seven minutes later when she lashed the ball beyond Konneh’s reach as Nigeria seized the ball from a defensive slip-up by the visitors.

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The 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals will be staged in the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 16th October – 3rd November.

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