Despite coming close on many occassions, leading into the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China, the Westfield Matildas yet to record a win at the biggest women's sporting tournament in the world. On 12 September 2007 that all changed and the team has never looked back.
It’s game day.
Caitlin Munoz wanders down from the hotel room she shares with team-mate Danielle Small in Hangzhou and heads for the meal room.
Every pre-game breakfast is the same while the Westfield Matildas are in China for the FIFA Women’s World Cup: chicken, vegetables, breads, cold meats, fruits and yoghurts and cereals. Munoz would go for the omelette, though, or vegemite on toast with avocado and a poached egg.
The team then makes their way outside for the traditional pre-game walk; a final chance to stretch their legs and relax before they put their game faces on.
It’s not the first time the Westfield Matildas have shared a meal or wandered the local streets before a World Cup game. They did it in Sweden in 1995 and in the USA in 1999 and 2003.
But today is different. Today, this team would make history as they won their first FIFA Women's World Cup match, defeating Ghana 4-1 in their opening group game.
And Canberra born Munoz was in the centre of the whirlwind.
“I was very nervous knowing I was starting in a World Cup,” Munoz told matildas.com.au.
“I remember sitting on the bus, excited and nervous. Everyone’s got their own music on, trying to get ready for the game. Everyone’s got their ponytails nice and straight – we all straightened our hair in the morning, it was a big thing back then.
You came into the change-room and it was a big, emotional sort of feeling: coming in and seeing your jersey hanging up with your name on it. It was always one of the highlights."
"Then you go and plonk yourself where you’re sitting. Everyone has their own little routines; I think I always put my left boot on for some reason.
“I’d just sit there with my boots on, ready. I hate rushing. I would sit there stretching. I’m a big fan of a foam-roller so I would roll a lot before and after games.”
Head coach Tom Sermanni didn’t give the team a rousing speech before they took to the field. His players already knew what they needed to do, and he trusted them.
So, in front of almost 26,000 fans, that’s exactly what they did.
“I remember [Sarah] Walsh’s goal,” Munoz said. “The cross came in and I laid it off to her and she scored, [but] then she ran off and she’s so fast that I didn’t have a chance to celebrate with her ‘til I stopped puffing and then caught up with her.
“The initial cross was annoying because I had to stretch and fall for it and then pass it back to her. And then she scored with her left foot, which she doesn’t normally do, so it was awesome. I just remember trying to chase her for the celebration, but she was so fast, I wasn’t anywhere close!”
Australia’s next two goals were scored by 22-year-old Lisa De Vanna – who bagged her first international brace – with Heather Garriock scoring the third.
I don’t think we knew how big it was right there and then,” Munoz said, “but a day or so afterwards, when you realise it’s the first game Australia has won at a major [women's] tournament, you sit back and think, ‘that was awesome.’
“You want to win your first game at any tournament and to do it like that and know that you were the first Australian team to do it is pretty special. And to do it with that bunch of girls; they were just such a good group.
“Then knowing all the attention we were getting back home: we were getting sent newspaper clippings, people were writing ‘good luck’ notes. In the hallway of our hotel and in the change-room, there were notes stuck up everywhere from fans.”
With the Ghana game behind them, the Westfield Matildas then faced an even bigger test: former World Cup winners Norway. While the European heavyweights got off on the front foot, scoring in the fifth minute, Australia stunned the world by coming back to draw the game 1-1 thanks to an 83rd minute goal by Lisa De Vanna.
“De Vanna was brilliant that tournament; that’s when she really took off,” Munoz said. “We knew she had that in her and it was so good that she was able to do it at that time.
It was the same sort of thing as with Walshy: I passed [De Vanna] the ball and was probably ahead of her when I did, then after she scored she went over and celebrated and I had no chance of catching up with her either!
“But that goal was amazing, she really stepped up that tournament.”
Now with four points secured out of a possible six, the Westfield Matildas’ final hurdle was Canada.
Like Norway, the Canadians got on the front foot early with a goal to Melissa Tancredi in the first minute.
“It was ridiculous,” Munoz said. “They scored early, but you can score early on in a game and that’s great, but then there’s still 90 minutes to go. So we never panicked; we were like, ‘okay, you scored early, now we’re going to switch on and keep playing.’”
Australia returned serve with a goal to Collette McCallum just after half-time to make it 1-1.
The Westfield Matildas’ hopes were almost shattered when the now-legendary Christine Sinclair scored Canada’s second in the 85th minute. But in the second minute of stoppage time, Australian captain Cheryl Salisbury took the game into her own hands.
“I think I’d just come off at that stage,” Munoz recalls. “I don’t know what Cheryl [Salisbury] was doing up front because she was a centre-back. Maybe Tom threw her up front, but I think she just did whatever she wanted. And thank god she did.
“De Vanna did that little mazy run and then Chez scored. It was perfect for Cheryl; she’s been brilliant for Australia for so many years and that was her last big tournament, so it was fitting that she got to put the ball in the net. It was an awesome game and everyone was so excited.
We never gave up. That’s the ‘Never Say Die’ attitude.”
Australia drew with Canada 2-2, finishing second in Group C and qualifying for the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time ever.
They didn’t have long to celebrate, though; three days later, the team were in Tianjin taking on international powerhouses Brazil for a place in the semi-final.
“Something happened leading up to the game,” Munoz said. “Chez had injured her calf or something so there was a bit of personnel change, I think Thea [Slatyer] or Shorty [Danielle Small].
“It was goal-for-goal. [Brazil] were great but I think the awesome thing was we matched it with them. We went down a goal but we kept on coming back and never giving up.”
Exhausted and depleted, the Westfield Matildas would go down 3-2 after goals to Brazil’s “Big Three”: Formiga, Marta, and Cristiane. Lisa De Vanna would score her fourth of the tournament – becoming Australia’s top scorer – while Lauren Colthorpe scored the Aussies’ second in front of 35,000 people.
“I remember the last whistle, everyone was just shattered because we’d fought so hard and Brazil was such a top-notch team but we really matched it with them,” Munoz said.
“It was heartbreaking when we lost, there were a lot of tears after that. We knew we were so close to beating one of the best teams in the world and moving further on in the tournament. But we were all proud of each other and we gave everything in that last game.
Having starred for the Westfield Matildas in that historic World Cup moment in 2007, Munoz is excited for what the 2023 tournament will hold on home soil.
“It’s gonna be brilliant,” she said. “The girls that are lucky enough to play here at a home World Cup are going to be shocked at how the country will get behind them.
“I think it’s just going to keep growing. If we can do well in that tournament, then who knows what the game will do? The country loves the Matildas; they’re our Golden Girls. I think Australia will support them to no end and I really want them to do well.”