Waltzing Matilda and back again.

Love how the seats of the stadium already wore the Aussie colours.
Love how the seats of the stadium already wore the Aussie colours.

The clouds began to gather around mid-afternoon, with the first few drops falling fat and heavy as I left the hostel to head towards the stadium. It began to really come down just as I threw myself into the shelter of the bus stop where I was able to watch as the less fortunate trudged, sprinted, strode and skipped through the powerful rain. By the time I arrived at and entered Edmonton’s small yet grand Commonwealth Stadium the rain had slowed down to a steady trickle that left my t-shirt damp rather than soaked through. Admittedly this was a bus ride, train ride, poutine, whiskey and coke, and great conversation with a couple of Canadians also heading to the game later. But that downpour had been brutal, and the sky was still filled with brooding grey clouds. I found myself grinning as I entered the stadium when the music blaring over the loudspeakers switched to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Seemed appropriate. I grabbed a beer, a Budweiser unfortunately but watching the Green and Gold play in a stadium requires at least a few beers, and settled into my seat just as the women from both teams ran onto the field.

Australia versus Sweden in their final group match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Green and Gold against Blue and Yellow. The Matildas against the Blågult. It was a fantastic match.

Australia went straight on the offensive, initially maintaining strong possession and keeping it in Sweden’s half of the field with a high-energy, high-speed attack. For a few crucial minutes after the kick-off the Matildas were all over the blue birds from Sweden, before a well aimed kick sent the ball over the heads of their defenders allowed a magnificent run down the centre of the field by Lisa De Vanna and an appointment with the back of the net, leaving the Swedes a little (ah ah-aah ah ah-aahhhh) thunderstruck before the tenth minute. But they recovered quickly enough and equalised before the twentieth with a magnificent bit of passing in front of the Aussie goal. There was more than a little booing from the Australian fans (we’re not the most gracious folk), but I couldn’t help but begrudgingly applaud at a neat bit of foot and teamwork.

With the score tied both teams settled into a long slog, punching at each other up and down the field (thankfully not literally this time… I’m looking at you Nigeria) attempting to force an opening. The Matildas seemed to try and use their possession of the ball to draw the Swedes into the Aussie half of the field to create an opening where their quickness would be an advantage, while the Blågult forced more than a few Corners to attempt to get past the Australian defence. The Swedes were skilled, clever and worked great together. The Aussies were fast, creative and just a bit cheeky, kicking the ball between the legs of the odd obstinate Scandinavian (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Fool me three times? Well that’s just fuckin ridiculous).

I wanna talk up the Australian team, but it was tense and the Swedes looked like they were starting to dominate more than once. But that was what made it such an amazing game to watch, and I reckon when a girl wearing the Green and Gold managed to clear the ball after a hard scramble during a Corner we cheered even harder than when that first goal was scored. We’d think or mutter some variation of “bloody hell, that was close!” and get a few seconds of relief before the ball found its way back into our half chased by a woman in blue and the dread would kick up again.

But when that final whistle blew, mate, I can’t describe the elation of that moment. It may have been an even score but as far as every Aussie present was concerned it was a victory. The Matildas had just needed that single point from a tied game to guarantee getting past the group stages into the knock-outs, while Sweden had to rely on the Nigerians not pulling off an upset (that they’d proven themselves capable, if not likely, of delivering) and beating the Americans. But we just needed a tie. We were through. So we cheered and bellowed and gathered around the edges of the field to celebrate our champions like the conquerors we believed them to be. Still believe them to be. Know they are. Well done girls. You’re through.

Gathering to celebrate after the match. Not the most dramatic shot, but a moment worth capturing regardless.
Gathering to celebrate after the match. Not the most dramatic shot, but a moment worth capturing regardless.

A lot of people were surprised when I told them I’d flown to Edmonton all by my lonesome specifically to watch the game. I was a little shocked at all the shock. Can’t help but feel that there’d be a bit less of it if it had been the men’s team playing. It really didn’t seem like all that big a deal. The Green and Gold was being worn at a major international sporting event. I wanted to catch at least one match, and there was no guarantee that once they got through the group stage (never doubted they could) they’d be playing in Vancouver. So I caught a plane to where I could.

Was it worth the time, expense and effort? Pounding on the empty seat in front of me after that first goal was scored because my own clapping didn’t seem loud enough. A murmur to my left that “Lydia’s back!” after the amazing Miss Williams made a fantastic save. Watching De Vanna grab Larissa Crummer as the former came off the field substituted for the latter, yelling something at the young player. I don’t know what was shared between the two, but it looked fuckin’ epic. Laughing with the crowd as the Ref signalled the two teams to play on after a Swedish girl wasted a free kick straight into the leg of an Aussie girl a few feet away in the dying minutes of the game. The simple goddamn joy when the final whistle was blown, and we knew they were through the ‘Group of Death.’ Of course it was bloody worth the effort.

I regret that I didn’t get to watch the game against Brazil. I was on my way to work, unfortunately, when it happened. I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot of surprised Canadians (and others) who have learnt to respect the Matildas. Learnt they are a force to be reckoned with in international soccer. It’s great.Good luck with the game against Japan ladies. We all know you can win it. We all will be cheering for you. And no matter what you will be our conquerors and we will be proud.GO THE MATILDAS!

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