How 2017 Tournament of Nations sparked Westfield Matildas' rise

When the 2018 Tournament of Nations commences in late July the Westfield Matildas could be forgiven for taking part in a brief moment of reflection on the past 12 months – and the impact of their game-changing 2017 win.

That victory clinched Australia’s first silverware since the 2010 AFC Asian Cup success, albeit this the 2017 Tournament of Nations success did come in a friendly tournament.

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But that should not detract from what proved to be a resounding statement of intent from our side, sparking a surge in prominence that will ensure Alen Stajcic’s team arrive in the United States in two months’ time with targets over their heads.

The inaugural Tournament of Nations was held last year from July 27 to August 3 and featured three of international women’s football heavyweights in the United States, Brazil and Japan.

This time around, the Westfield Matildas will take on the trio again, but in three different venues over eight-days in July and August.

With the tournament under a week away, let’s take a look back at the 2017 edition of the Tournament of Nations to see just how significant it was in the continuing rise of the Westfield Matildas.

Emily van Egmond and Sam Kerr celebrate at the 2017 Tournament of Nations

'Monkey off the back’: Australia’s history-breaking win over USA

The Westfield Matildas were certainly no easy-beats entering the 2017 tournament, but the manner in which they played against their high level opponents across three matches raised eyebrows around the world.

At no point was this more evident than the side’s historic victory over hosts and superpower the USA. Tameka Butt’s strike midway through the second half led Australia to a 1-0 victory at CenturyLink Field to give the Westfield Matildas their first win over the USA in 27 attempts.

It's been a consistent and steady rise over the past three years for Australia, and finally the growing belief allowed them a landmark moment with the opening win.

“To get that monkey off our back, it adds to our belief,” said coach Alen Stajcic at the time.

"We've shown we can beat the best teams in the world on their home turf and the challenge is now for us to do it for a few games in a row at a major tournament to win the thing."

Westfield Matildas' goalkeeper Lydia Williams was immense between the posts, pulling of three massive saves from Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, while Alanna Kennedy put in a fantastic performance in the heart of an Australian back three.

The goal arrived midway through the second half. The USA defence had failed to clear their lines properly and when Emily van Egmond contested a ball on the edge of the area, Tameka Butt found herself with a clear sight on goal.

The finish was unerring from the midfielder, who lashed a shot across American goalkeeper Hope Solo to hand Australia a famous victory. 

Tameka Butt
The Westfield Matildas mob goalscorer Tameka Butt against the USA.

World Champions beaten, Asian Champions up next

Having defeated the world champions on the Friday, the Westfield Matildas impressively swept aside the Asian champions the following Monday with Sam Kerr’s opening half hat-trick headlining a dominant 4-2 victory over Japan.

The girls were in electric form, with Japan’s high defensive line ripped by Kerr and Hayley Raso, while Emily van Egmond capped a superb performance with a second half penalty.

The side’s response from going 1-0 down early on was an indicator of the newfound fearlessness that grew after the USA result. It took just four minutes for Kerr to cancel out Asuna Tanaka’s header and the confidence that emanated as a result proved contagious as the Westfield Matildas blew Japan away.

Sam Kerr was unstoppable against the reigning Asian Champions.

The cherry on top: Australia hit for Brazil for six

Back to back wins over the US and Japan had catapulted the Westfield Matildas into the international spotlight and Stajcic’s side underlined their incredible tournament with a 6-1 win over Brazil in California.

A brace apiece to Katrina Gorry and Lisa De Vanna was rounded out by goals from Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord, with Kerr once again in sensational form and playing a major part in four opening half goals.

De Vanna’s double also saw the forward become the Westfield Matildas all-time leading scorer with 42 goals, moving past former Westfield W-League striker Kate Gill.

The victory inflicted Brazil’s worst defeat since 1999 and clinched Australia’s first silverware since the 2010 AFC Asian Cup. 

More importantly, it ensured the Westfield Matildas ended the tournament with an exclamation mark.

The Westfield Matildas line up for a team photo before Brazil.

The three results over USA, Brazil and Japan have proved influential in galvanising the belief in Stajcic's squad. Following their victory over Brazil in the final game of the tournament, Australia went on to win their next four matches on home soil before a fourth-placed finish in the 2018 Algarve Cup and a runners-up finish in the 2018 AFC Asian Cup.

The Westfield Matildas have also since smashed crowd figures in the two subsequent friendlies against Brazil and now look to further increase their reputation at the 2018 Tournament of Nations.

2018 Tournament of Nations – Westfield Matildas Match Schedule

Brazil v Westfield Matildas
Date: Thursday, 26 July 2018 (local)
Venue: Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas
Kick-off: 3.15pm (local) (6.15am AEST – Friday, 27 July 2018)
Broadcast: LIVE in Australia on FOX SPORTS

USA v Westfield Matildas
Date: Sunday, 29 July 2018 (local)
Venue: Pratt & Whitney Stadium, East Hartford, Connecticut
Kick-off: 7pm (local) (9am AEST – Monday, 30 July 2018)
Broadcast: LIVE in Australia on FOX SPORTS

Westfield Matildas v Japan
Date: Thursday, 2 August 2018 (local)
Venue: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois
Kick-off: 4.45pm (local) (7.45am AEST – Friday, 3 August 2018)
Broadcast: LIVE in Australia on FOX SPORTS