Xbox, table tennis and toddlers: Matildas find the light side of Women’s World Cup

<span>Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/IvfHHPN.2sUzg9pjx_x5.g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/8f3704bbdba5760c811dce08e06eb712″ src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/IvfHHPN.2sUzg9pjx_x5.g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/8f3704bbdba5760c811dce08e06eb712″></img></p>
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<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters</span></figcaption></p>
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<p>The Matildas do not play Nigeria in the Women’s World Cup until Thursday night. But that hasn’t stopped one national team player trying to manifest a win – on the video game Fifa.</p>
<p>Defender Charlotte Grant has spent some of the past week in bed overcoming illness and jetlag, having been the last player to join the squad. But thanks to an Xbox given as a gift from teammate Ellie Carpenter, who has a sponsorship deal with Microsoft, Grant has put the time to good use.</p>
<p>“I downloaded Fifa – that’s the go-to at the moment,” she said. “I haven’t done player mode yet, I got straight into the World Cup. We won against Ireland and Nigeria, so hopefully we can do that in real life.”</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>Sam Kerr will ‘definitely be back’ this Women’s World Cup, Caitlin Foord says</p>
<p>With the weight of a nation on their shoulders, the Matildas are taking every opportunity to relax, and Xbox is just one form of distraction. Arts and craft, table tennis and time with family members are among the activities helping the Matildas take their minds off the task at hand.</p>
<p>The Australian team is based in Brisbane for the Women’s World Cup, and Matildas staff have spared no effort in customising the hotel space. “Walking into this hotel for us was so special,” defender Alanna Kennedy said. “So many people have put so much work into making the space feel like home for us.”</p>
<p>There is a dedicated relaxation room with everything the players may need to switch off. “There are a lot of different options for different people to have a little creative session – we have drawing and colouring in for the youngsters, there’s a TV there, there’s recovery stuff, and yes, there’s a ping pong table,” veteran Aivi Luik said.</p>
<p>It has made the players feel right at home. Other individual touches include personalised name plates on their rooms and “tired Tilly” do-not-disturb signs. “These are tiny little details but they just mean so much,” Kennedy said.</p>
<p>Luik is the Matildas’ table tennis champion, although she admits she has been facing tough competition as rivalries heat up at the team’s headquarters.</p>
<p>“Mary Fowler the other day is very good – she has a wicked forehand,” Luik said. “Alex Chidiac obviously is very good, Wheels [Clare Wheeler] is very good. There’s quite a few – a couple of staff members too.”</p>
<p>Luik has held on to her crown for some time now. Almost four years ago, the Matildas wished her happy birthday on Instagram: “A midfield magician, our queen of calm, and ping pong master.”</p>
<p>But there’s at least one player in the squad who hasn’t found time for Fifa or table tennis: midfielder Katrina Gorry. “I chase a toddler instead,” she said when asked about her relaxation activities. “I think that might be harder than an Xbox game.”</p>
<p>Gorry gave birth to daughter Harper in 2021 and has returned to the national team following a brief stint on the sidelines. Gorry’s mother, Linda, has been in camp with the team to care for Harper while the team trains.</p>
<p>“For me it’s just hanging out with Harper, enjoying the time with the girls and trying to switch off from football,” Gorry said. “We obviously watch the World Cup games but apart from that it’s just enjoy your down time, take a few deep breaths and just enjoy what we’re doing here – because I think it’s pretty incredible.”</p>
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