Angela Iannotta: From Albury into the Australian football history books

On this day in 1995, Angela Iannotta wrote her name into the history books with Australia's first goal at a senior FIFA finals tournament. 

In the afternoon shadows of Valenciennes’ Stade du Hainaut, an elfin figure looked on with a pensive expression. 

Below her, as the first Group C match in the latest edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup commenced, two nations of her heart went head to head. 

“At the start I was hoping it would be a 1-1 draw,” said Angela Iannotta, a member of Australia's first FIFA Women’s World Cup squad in 1995. 

“But in that game, when Italy scored to go up 2-1, I was so devastated. So devastated.” 

Even though I have lived and played in Italy since 1992, in every sport, I am for Australia.  When the Matildas play, I am always watching them as an Australian fan.” 

Having lived in Italy for almost 30 years was not the only reason for Iannotta’s punto debole for Le Azzurre.  The other reason was the woman on the Italian touchline - Milena Bertolini. 

Iannotta and Bertolini go back a long way to their playing days, where they tasted success together as Serie A champions with Agliana in 1994/95. 

“I enjoyed playing two seasons with Milena.  She was a natural coach, even on the field.  You could tell she would go a long way with coaching. 

“Before the game, I sent her a message saying “May the best team win today. I am hoping both teams do well but obviously, I’m Australian so I am hoping we win,” she laughed. 

The match was not just a rare opportunity for Iannotta to watch her beloved Westfield Matildas live, it was also an opportunity to catch up with old teammates, many she had not seen in over two decades. 

Angela Iannotta in France
(L-R) Former Westfield Matildas Moya Dodd, Angela Iannotta and Tracey Wheeler catch up in France

Inside the Stade du Hainaut there were many familiar faces; Katrina Boyd, Alison Forman, Carol Vinson, Moya Dodd, Tracey Wheeler and Alicia Ferguson.  It was an opportunity to see and support today's players who carried on the tradition they had started all those years ago. 

As Sam Kerr scored her first FIFA Women’s World Cup goal in the 22nd minute against Italy, Iannotta was transported back to almost exactly the same minute 24 years before when she found the back of the net.

“I remember it was a really good goal,” Iannotta smiled fondly.  “We were losing 1-0 and it was a misplaced pass from a Chinese player right on the edge of the penalty area.”

I got this really great ball and I just stopped it and struck it aiming for the corner. It was the most exciting goal I would ever score!”

“I didn't realize in the moment that I scored the goal, that it was the first goal for Australia at a men’s or women’s  World Cup.  I was just so happy we had been able to level the score.” 

Australia would go on to lose the match 4-2 but for Iannotta, her name would forever be etched in Australian football's record books.   

Iannotta was electric during that 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  Her immaculate footwork and ability to beat players saw the whippet quick forward heralded as an exciting prospect for Australia. 

It was a long way from Albury and Murray High School in NSW. 

“It was hard for someone like me coming from a country town because there weren’t many opportunities for a girl like me in Albury.”

I was lucky I just had natural speed and skill I suppose.  I went from playing with my brothers on the streets, the park and in the backyard and then onto the football pitch without much coaching.” 

It wasn’t all luck.  Iannotta’s hunger for the game saw her look for every opportunity to hone her skills.  After the final bell rang at school,  you could often find the teenager behind the nearest wall, pushing herself to be better. 

“I used to go up Murray High School and kick the ball against the wall; my left, my right, my left, my right.”

“I used to always kick for about a couple of hours. I'd always break a few windows and just grab the ball and run off as I didn't want to get caught breaking windows,” Iannotta snickered. 

“Then they ended up putting bars on the window and I thought ‘oh, that’s good.’

To paraphrase an old saying, you’ve got to crack a few windows to make a footballer.

Iannotta’s big break came by accident.  After following her older brother Paul to Italy for a holiday, a chance encounter saw her given a trial with the newly promoted Agliana.  The hours of practice paid off and she soon became just the third Australian woman signed to an international team. 

Her four years with Agliana saw her play alongside Italian football legends like Bertolini, Carolina Morace, Elisabetta Bavagnoli (current Manager of Roma) and Rita Guarino (current Manager of Juventus). 

Her Serie A title in the 94/95 season was also a pioneering moment, as well as signing for the Japanese L-League for Panasonic Bambina alongside Sunni Hughes and Cheryl Salisbury. 

Her skill and intelligence on the ball saw her a regular in Tom Sermanni’s sides and her partnerships with fellow attacking players Julie Murray, Hughes, Lisa Casagrande produced plenty of goals for Australia. 

Iannotta played for the Westfield Matildas in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup but then injuries, and falling lower on the selection list, meant by 2000 her international career was over. 

Today Iannotta lives on the shores of Adriatic coast but, with modern technology, she is able to keep track of the progress of Australian women’s football and her beloved Westfield Matildas. 

“These days you have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter so there is much more publicity and you get to know more about the players.”

I know that the Matildas are one of Australia’s most beloved teams and it’s great that it’s just come such a long, long way.”

As well as always having cap number 66, the one time girl from Albury will forever be linked with a momentous occasion in Australian football – a feat that decades on still brings great pride. 

“I'm quite lucky, aren’t I?” she said. I keep saying that to a few of my friends “hey look, I have got that part of history.  I scored that first World Cup goal for Australia.”

“I’m happy to be part of the Matildas.”

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