‘Unbelievable for our nation’: fan festival erupts in joy as Matildas progress

By the time Steph Catley rattled home the Matilda’s fourth goal, the crowd at the Fifa fan festival at Darling Harbour in Sydney had long before begun partying.

The celebrations began as it became clearer and clearer the Matildas were going to storm past Canada and into the last 16, with fans in jerseys, scarves and beanies jumping with delight.

A sense of occasion gripped Tumbalong Park, where the public viewing site had been set up to see if the Matildas could get the win they needed to progress to the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup.

Related: Women’s World Cup: this time the world really is watching

And win they surely did, banging in four unanswered goals and igniting an overflowing crowd baying for a Matildas win.

Many jumped to their feet at every Australian attack, roaring at the screen and encouraging those around them to cheer louder.

The atmosphere caught fire after Hayley Raso arrowed in Australia’s first goal, with fans hugging strangers and throwing beers into the air.

Natalie Abel said the game was “suspenseful” in the early stages, but hailed the result as “massive” for the Matildas.

“That was amazing!” she said. “I was just so impressed by them, they played so well, it wasn’t a complete surprise but it was a great result.”

Abel believed the team could go “all the way”, saying there was no reason the Matildas – who in the end didn’t need their star player and captain Sam Kerr to come off the bench – couldn’t go on and win the World Cup.

“Never say never,” she said “And I think it would make a huge difference to women’s sport in general.

“Just seeing the reaction of how many people are watching this now, and at the stadiums, its an amazing time for women’s football.”

The fan fest was more organised and better serviced than the one that was set up for the Socceroos’ knockout match against Argentina during the Qatar World Cup back in December.

Back then the authorities had been caught out by the Socceroos’ progress and the demand for live viewing sites in Australia, meaning the site was organised at the last minute.

But this tournament’s iterations featured food stalls, a football shop, activities for fans and benches for them to eat on.

It all resulted in a much more family-friendly environment, aided by the more reasonable kick-off times, with the Matilda’s beginning their do-or-die match at 8pm rather than an early morning.

Scott Kidson was among the fans celebrating, and said the Matildas gave the crowd exactly what they wanted – lots of goals.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on the girls. And I think they’ve done an excellent job in wearing that pressure. There’s been full houses at every stadium, so they’re playing in front of capacity, which is wonderful for the game and wonderful for them.”

“We’ve got talent, we’ve got depth and the girls are playing well overseas, and they’ve come back and they’re showing it here.

Christina Trajceska called the win “magnificent”, adding that she was always confident the Matilda’s could put together a run through this World Cup.

“Its unbelievable for women’s football, unbelievable for our national team, unbelievable for our nation.”

“I think all hope was lost during the Nigeria game, and we were bottom of the table, we were written off. But we’ve seen how these girls play and they all have that ‘never say die’ attitude, and it was spectacular.”

Trajceska said she never doubted the Matilda’s, and added that she believed it was an important day for football culture in Australia.

“My heart was green-and-gold, but my head said ‘maybe quarter-finals, maybe semi-finals’ but with this performance I’m very happy and I am sure that we have it in us to go all the way

“I think it’ll be a turning point for football in Australia, a turning point for women in sport in general. If we win this, it’ll inspire so many not just to play the game, but to be part of the game.”

Anthony Russell-Thomas said it was fantastic to watch the Matildas beat the Olympic gold kedalists.

“We demolished them,” he said among he celebrations.

“Next round, I believe is either Denmark, England or China. And we’ll be back in Sydney, so I think we can go all the way.”

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