What Olympic glory would mean for Australian football – and why Steph Catley is the right woman to lead the Matildas to it


In a few hours, the Matildas will round off a successful pair of matches against Uzbekistan with a convincing win and be qualified for the summer Olympics in France come July.

The long road will finally have been navigated and frankly, it has not been particularly arduous for a team that is flowing with confidence and looking like a serious medal contender.

It is a curious approach to organising a football tournament that the International Olympic Committee takes. Just 12 teams will compete for the three medals on offer and based on the absence of some heavyweights of the European game, the majority of the countries involved will believe they are serious chances of mounting the dais.

There will be no Germany, Holland, Sweden, England, Norway or Denmark, with only the French and Spaniards set to represent the home of football in Paris.

South America will be riding the hopes of Brazil and Colombia, the United States and Canada are logical qualifiers from CONCACAF and New Zealand would have needed to completely implode during qualifying in order to lose their spot as the team set to represent the OFC.

That leaves just two spots to be decided in Asia, as well as two from Africa, where eight teams are currently involved in third-round qualifying action.

Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa will likely battle for those positions.

Australia are locks for one of the Asian spots and will not make a meal of things tonight. Japan and North Korea will fight to secure the second spot.

Next Up: #Paris2024 play-off second leg

???????? v ???????? 28.02.24 – 8pm AEDT – @marvelstadiumau
????????????: @10FootballAU#Matildas #TilitsDone #AllezAUS pic.twitter.com/AbKWvfqmkz

— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) February 25, 2024

It sets up an intriguing proposition for the Matildas, especially considering their fourth-placed finish at the World Cup on home soil last August.

Running on eye across the teams already qualified and those likely to do so, only Spain and the USA would strike any fear at all in the minds of the Matildas.

Australians as a collective would feel confident in matching it with the Kiwis, Canadians, Brazilians and Colombians. The epic battle with the French in Sydney during the World Cup showed just how closely matched the two teams are and even coach Tony Gustavsson would expect to enter matches against Japan and the potential African opponents as favourites.

Nigeria would be the obvious threat, yet the Matildas’ poor loss to them at the World Cup requires the context of the 65 per cent possession earned by the Australians and the 28 shots at goal that, on the majority of days, would have resulted in victory.

All credit to the rampant and emotional Nigerians, yet something tells me the Matildas might be more than ready for the Africans next time around.

Should Spain and/or the USA strike a bump in the road during the tournament, or be forced to play each other earlier than most would expect, the draw will open right up for the Matildas, just as it did during the World Cup.

Thoughts of a minor medal should not be limiting the Australians. With such a small field and the notable exceptions that seriously bring into question the entire exercise, the Matildas should be eying history.

All eyes on @Paris2024. ????????????@MaccaArnold1 | @TheMatildas pic.twitter.com/78wOJ2NMlO

— FIFA Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWC) February 23, 2024

What a gold medal for football at the Summer Olympics would mean for Australia is simply immeasurable.

Amidst false dawns, moments of hope and a long exile from World Cup competition, the Socceroos took the nation along with them on the journey over the last 100 years.

Australians cheer for them as loudly as ever and continue to hope that one day, one day, there will be a moment where the emotional investment pays off on the world stage.

Not much inspires the nation like a run deep into the World Cup knockout phase, something the Socceroos were on the cusp of achieving in Qatar.

Then, along came the Matildas and showed us all exactly what that looks like, as they fell within a match of the World Cup Final last August.

With taliswoman Sam Kerr set to be in the stands and cheering on the team she has at times carried on her shoulders, Steph Catley will lead the women to Paris. Frankly, her captaincy, poise, grace and professionalism appear unparalleled in the squad and the team looks better under her captaincy than Kerr’s.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Catley is a cooler customer than Kerr, in a better position to see the shape of the game unfolding from her spot at left back and the manner in which the team responded to her presence and leadership in Australia during the World Cup did not go unnoticed.

The 2024 women’s football tournament at the Olympics lacks depth. There are strong teams, but plenty the Aussies should be able to navigate past.

That opens up the chances of a medal and the woman leading the Matildas will be the popular Catley, for whom her chargers appear willing to run through a wall.

It all sets up an opportunity for Australian football history, on the back of what was created in 2023. What it would mean for the domestic game is hard to fathom.

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Perhaps we should just get past Uzbekistan, head to Paris and win the damn thing. We can work out the legacy stuff a little later on.

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