It was a bit of deja vu. Here I was back in Brisbane watching the French play a team in yellow. But it coul dnot have been more different as well, because the team in yellow, was not Brazil, but Australia. In a country that takes its sports seriously and (while still referring to these amazing atheletes as girls) recognizes women's sports, this game was a party, a statement of national pride, and a battle of epic proportion.
Now, the savvy of you may recall that I intended for this to be a Canada game. Canada were supposed to have won their group, beaten Denmark in the round of 16 and the come to Brisbane. Well, life doesn't always work out as you want, so here I was cheering for Australia in Australia amid thousands of rabid Mathilda's fans. It was awesome!
This is going to be a lot fewer words and lot more videos in an attempt to capture the spirit of the match, since there is both so much to write about the match and nothing to write about it.
I headed to the stadium early, having been disciplined at purchasing no swag before my our last long stay here, thus minimizing the number of airports through which I had to drag said swag. The yellow parade to the stadium had already begun by 1:00 PM (even though gates didn't open until 3), but I joined about 3:30. Accompanied by thousands of my nearest and dearest friends, it was a roving party!
Having secured swag, I found my way to what were definitely my best seats to date: on the Aussie 25 yard line, 12 rows from the front. It felt like I could have been participating in the warmups!
And when I say that the fans were really into the game, I mean it. These folks were just a few rows behind me and were delighted to be featured in my video!
And yes, in addition to the party and overall jubilation, there was a soccer match. To be honest, it didn't look good for the home team for the first ten to fifteen minutes. There was good play, but the French looked sharper and more likely to score. The early stats had the french with a bit more possession, better pass accuracy, and more passes. And then the Mathildas settled down! Slowly, starting about a third of the way through the first half, the tides gently changed. Now, the Aussies were holding the ball and moving it around; they were making dangerous runs into the attacking third. And ever so slowly, you could see the change in the statistics. The whole half was an outstanding contest by two well-matched teams, but you could see the game moving in Australia's direction. And then, it was suddenly halftime with a score of 0-0.
The second half started much like the first had ended. Australia was just a bit more in control than France. I don't want to give the wrong impression -- both teams were playing exceptionally well. There were heart-stopping plays at both ends of the field. But Australia was just doing a bit better at it.
And then, what to our wondrous eyes should appear, but a Sam Kerr warming up on the sidelines. At the 56 minute mark, Kerr enters the game to an adoring fanbase. She brings an extra spark to the Aussie side -- more complex play in the final third, a stunning ability to get to headers, even though she is one of the fun-sized as we like to call the vertically challenged in our household. (And watching her compete with Wendy Renard for headers would be hilarious if Kerr weren't so threatening at it.) It's clear that the fans and players lover Kerr, not simply because she's an outstanding goal scorer, but because she is one of those players who makes the game just a bit better and a bit easier for everyone around her. Unfortunately, this new found energy and beautiful play has absolutely no impact on the score. The scant four minutes of extra time just isn't enough to avoid going into overtime.
The fans are thrilled with the epic battle they have witnesses.
And we are in extra time! Sadly, a different Australia enters the field. They are looking worse than they looked in those opening minutes. France has picked up where Australia left off; they are pushing towards goal; they are threatening. Having ended the game with about an equal number of corner kicks, France suddenly starts accumulating cornes in bulk, and each one causes the roughly 45,000 Mathildas to miss a heartbeat or two. And then, about ten minutes in, the unthinkable: the ball is in the Australian net. And then magically, there is no goal. Turns out Renard gave a bit too hard of a pull on Caitlin Foord's jersey. The fans are sequentially shocked, confused, and relieved all in a period of under five seconds.
And the game continues. The end of the first overtime period brings with it a familiar score: 0-0. And the second overtime seems a death march of frantic play up and down the field leading to the inevitability of a shoot out.
Given the epic battle we have witnessed for 90 minutes, it is no surprise that the shootout becomse its own epic battle. The longest in world cup history (that includes both the men's and women's tournaments). With France shooting first, the amazing Australian keeper, Mackenzie Arnold, and her trust post gave the Aussies three separate chances to win it. Arnold saved the first shot from France and the post saved the fourth, which put Australia's fifth kicker in a position to win it. Interestingly, that fifth kicker was none other than the goalie. Cruelty: her game-clinching goal stolen by the post!
And so we move to sudden death...six PKs, both score. Seven PKs, both score. Eight PKs, both score. Nine PKs, Arnold stops the French kicker! But no! She has stepped off her line, so the kicker gets to try again. And again, Arnold nabs it! Here we are, on the verge again -- Aussie kicker steps up and ... the French keeper (called in specially to take PKs) stops it. We are back at it -- Kicker number 10 ... French kicker hits the post. For the fourth time, Australia has a chance to win it .. and finally, the game is over, Australia 7-6 in PKs!
There is a collective sign of relief in the stadium before the pandamonium breaks out! I can only imagine what the semi-finals will be like!
And this is what a city does when the home town team wins!