Matildas relish rousing reception as World Cup nears

If the sea of green and gold in Melbourne’s Federation Square showed how big a deal the Matildas are, the chorus of high-pitched squeals at their Women’s World Cup presentation added an emphatic exclamation mark to their celebrity status.

The 23 players in the squad were presented with their jerseys – by 23 girls named Matilda – in front of around 3500 fans on Tuesday afternoon.

The Melbourne landmark is a live site for the upcoming tournament on home soil after the colourful, raucous scenes of support there for the Socceroos during last year’s men’s World Cup made global headlines.

The square gradually filled across Tuesday afternoon, days out from what is set to be a sellout clash with world No.5 France at Marvel Stadium on Friday.

All three of the Matildas’ World Cup group games are already sold out.

“Home crowd advantage is a real thing,” superstar captain Sam Kerr told the adoring crowd.

“Just coming here and doing these things and seeing the fans and having a stadium packed out on Friday, it gives you a buzz that you don’t get away from home.

“So it’s going to be amazing.”

Clare Polkinghorne and Lydia Williams will become the first Matildas or Socceroos to attend a fifth World Cup.

“It’s awesome to come out and see so many supporters here,” Polkinghorne told the bustling media scrum. 

“Just walking up and looking at all the green and gold, it just really sets the tone for what’s going to be a really good World Cup for us.

“It’s definitely come a really long way. I remember playing on home soil at the start of my career and we’d be lucky to get a few hundred people at the game.

“So to see all these people out here today – hopefully it just continues to keep growing.”

There was no shortage of expectation from the crowd.

Coach Tony Gustavsson at one point paused before answering a question on what he’d like to tell fans, and a member of the crowd yelled: “We’re going to win”.

The Matildas’ rise has proved a shot in the arm for Football Australia (FA) and the sport as a whole – attracting crowds, interest and sponsors.

“This is a golden period for Australian football. Just look around us,” FA chief executive James Johnson said.

“Football is finally at the very centre of every city around the country.

“The game in Australia looks very, very different to what it looked like four years ago, and we’ve come a long, long way.

“And right at the front of the change of the sport are the Matildas, who are really shaping the game’s future.”