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A-League Grand Final: 50-50 challenge

Australian A-League

Matildas' rapid rise in danger thanks to Football Federation Australia turmoil

Amy Harrison
Australia defeated China 5-1 in a friendly at GMHBA stadium in Geelong on Sunday.

As the final whistle sounded at GMHBA stadium in Geelong on Sunday afternoon, so too ended a stunning 2017 campaign for Australia's national women's team.

While coach Alen Stajcic identified some key areas he feels need improvement on the pitch, the 5-1 victory over China was the seventh consecutive win for the Matildas and the ninth positive result of a total 11 matches this calendar year.

Currently sixth in the FIFA World Rankings, the Matildas can be fairly confident of an upward shift when the latest figures are released on Dec. 15, possibly even bettering their highest ever ranking of fifth (March to August 2016).

More important than rankings though, the success of the past 12 months has made the Matildas household names, put them on the front, back and lifestyle pages of newspapers, seen them fill stadiums and created a huge buzz around the women's game when their male counterparts have at times struggled for traction.

There is now a genuine chance for this football team to convert the exposure, popularity and profile into commercial gain, however with the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March followed by the AFC Women's Asian Cup in April 2018 looming as the next major tournaments for the Matildas (as well as rumours of a return invitation from the Chinese Football Association), the challenge now is how to keep the players front of mind back home.

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While the W-League goes some way to helping this, success on the international stage will likely only translate to the domestic front for a handful of the players.

The vision for this side must certainly seek to maximise their exposure on home soil. Even better, forward planning must surely include opportunities to see the women's national team compete in meaningful matches in front of home crowds.

The last time the Matildas played a match of any official consequence in Australia was more than a decade ago when an Olympic qualifier against Chinese Taipei was held in Coffs Harbour in 2007.

While it has become commonplace to see the men's qualifiers shared around the country on a regular basis, home and away qualification matches no longer exist for the women.

They will fight for World Cup qualification in Jordan where the top five finishers at the Asian Cup will secure their places at France 2019.

Similarly, the 2016 AFC Women's qualifying tournament where the Australians booked their place in Rio with a stunning undefeated run, was held in Osaka, Japan.

There is certainly interest in the creation of an invitational tournament to be held on Australian shores as an annual event but there too while a wonderful idea, it would still be a friendly tournament.

Sam Kerr celebrates after scoring for Australia against China.
Sam Kerr's brace on Sunday extended her run to 11 goals in six games.

The most powerful chance for exposure of women's football in this country would unquestionably be to win hosting rights for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.

To see the crown jewel of the women's game make its way Down Under would propel women's football to the top of the tree and create unparalleled opportunities for the Matildas to become a competitive commercial entity. This is a tournament that on their current trajectory, the Matildas have a real shot at winning.

While support is there at both state and federal government level and FFA is putting together a team to focus on the bid, the unrest at board level could see it all unravel before it has even begun.

At the end of this week all FFA stakeholders will meet to vote on an expanded congress. If no agreement is reached, then FIFA will step in with a normalisation committee to run the game until the congress issues are resolved.

The biggest ramification for women's football is less about whether they get the one vote in the congress but more about how a football association that cannot organise its own effective governance could possibly be considered as a contender to host the biggest women's football show on earth.

Indeed, if FIFA are running the game here, would a bid even be permitted to proceed?

In the worst case scenario -- if the governing body cannot find a solution, will Australia be thrown out of FIFA? Unthinkable, but the precedent is there. It would certainly make Australia attending, let alone hosting, a World Cup for men or women a moot point.

Ironically, there are no women controlling any of the stakeholder votes which will this week decide the fate of football in this country.

So the burning question is: Could the men in suits derail the momentum of the Matildas?

ESPN Australia/New Zealand columnist Stephanie Brantz has spent the past 20 years excelling in the coverage of football and women's sport.


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