Anticipation builds as the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ Trophy lands on Australian shores
Faces new and old flocked to First Fleet Park as the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ Trophy graced Australia's shores three months before its (hopeful) return in July.
Sydney hosted the Sunday event with the likes of Westfield Matildas star Kyah Simon, Westfield Young Matildas player Clare Hunt and Caltex Socceroos legend Mark Schwarzer present as anticipation builds towards the tournament in June.
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With the FIFA Women's World Cup in France on the horizon, decorated former goalkeeper Schwarzer sees the Westfield Matildas as a big chance to do well at the tournament and declared they are a "shining light" for Australian football.
"I have huge admiration for the Matildas, they’ve done an incredible job particularly in the last couple of years, their rise to fame has been sensational at a time where this country really needed it," said Schwarzer, speaking to the crowd at First Fleet Park.
"The men’s game hasn’t progressed like everyone would have hoped, the women’s game has really been the shining light and has helped the game along tremendously.
"There’ll become a time where the women’s game will be held very, very closely along the lines of the men’s game and I don’t think it will be too far away.
The only non-Brit to have made 500+ appearances in the English Premier League, Schwarzer compared the current crop of Australian stars to the Caltex Socceroos' "Class of 2006".
"You’ve got that [golden era] now with the Matildas. There’s a unique group of phenomenal players in that group, obviously, some of the best players in the world," the ex Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester City gloveman said.
"This team is primed and very, very close to being in the perfect position to vie for the title. Winning the tournament would be an amazing accomplishment, probably the best accomplishment in Australian football history."
Also present was Westfield Matildas' 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup representative, Sarah Walsh, who spoke of the stark contrast between the national side she played with and today's team.
"To be honest we were battling back then [at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup] and I thought we had a really good team. When I fast forward to this year, this team could seriously at least go to the semi-finals, and then pick up that trophy," said Walsh.
"I’ve never really believed that until now. It's an exciting time."
It's an opportunity that Kyah Simon is desperate to be a part of.
Nearing the end of her rehabilitation from an ankle injury setback, Simon will return with NWSL side Houston Dash before joining the Westfield Matildas pre-tournament preparations to cement her place in Ante Milicic's plans for France.
"As cliché as it sounds, it is a childhood dream," said Simon.
"When you're at a [FIFA Women's] World Cup, it’s the pinnacle of football, all eyes are watching, it's an opportunity to make our country proud.
"It's something you can’t replicate in any other part of your life, so when you’re there it’s a matter of really soaking up the experience.
"When you’ve got a goal, especially something as big as the FIFA Women's World Cup, nothing else matters.
"I’m willing to compromise on any other part of my life just to ensure I’m on that plane to France."
Clare Hunt will not be on the plane to France for the FIFA Women's World Cup campaign this time around, but the 20-year-old was certainly taking notes from Walsh and Simon as they spoke in the Harbour City.
"To have this experience and to be here with Sarah Walsh and Kyah Simon and to see that trophy, it motivates me and inspires me to work toward being a part of a squad that can fight for that trophy and bring it back to Australia," said Hunt, clearly ecstatic to be around two heroes of the game.
The well-attended occasion also saw the launch of Football Federation Australia's Gender Equality Plan, with special guest Tanya Plibersek, the deputy leader of the opposition, shadow minister for women and shadow minister for education and training.