Matildas midfielder Chloe Logarzo traces the side’s hard-won popularity back to the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Japan 15 months ago.
Australia waltzed through the final qualifying tournament undefeated, playing to a TV audience back home of more than 300,000.
They carried that form to the Rio Games, where they lost on penalties to hosts Brazil in the quarter-finals, then they topped their group at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, in front of the Netherlands, Sweden and China, before losing to Denmark on penalties in the third-place play-off.
Their Tournament of Nations win last month, when they knocked off the USA, Japan and Brazil in eight days in California, confirmed their arrival as a powerhouse of the women’s game.
Saturday’s 2-1 win over a near full-strength Brazil in front of 15,000 fans at Penrith convinced Logarzo the public had “hopped on board”. The FFA is predicting a crowd of more than 14,000 for the second game in Newcastle on Tuesday night.
“Everyone loves people who have got fight, and I feel like that’s what we’ve captured,” Logarzo told the Newcastle Herald on Monday. “The fact we’ve started being successful, everything feels like it’s falling into place and we are being portrayed as the elite athletes we should be.
“We were so successful in the Japan campaign for the Olympic qualifiers, and that’s where we really first sparked the love and everyone really got behind that and watched us. The TV ratings were ridiculous, and that was a really good start.”
Logarzo, who last appeared in the W-League for Newcastle early last year and now plays for Norwegian club Avaldsnes, came off the bench in the last 15 minutes on Saturday and hopes for more game time in front of her adopted home crowd on Tuesday.
Fellow midfielder Emily van Egmond said beating Brazil again last weekend, after the 6-1 rout in California, was “sweet” revenge for the Rio disappointment.
“They’ve knocked us out of an Olympic Games, and obviously it hurt,” she said.
“Tournament of Nations they were missing some key players, so that’s what made the victory even more sweet on Saturday at Penrith. I think they were pretty close to their full-strength squad.
“To have a five-time player of the year come out like Marta and to beat them 2-1 is awesome and shows what direction this team’s going in.”
She said the recent success followed years of hard work by the players, coach Alen Stajcic and his support staff, who include her father, assistant coach Gary van Egmond.
“I think we had success in America, and I don’t know if we would have had these crowds [without it], but we’ve been playing some exciting football for a while.
“I think it’s great that we’re able to come home and show Australia the exciting brand that we are playing. We’ve heard nothing but good things about the crowd.”
The former Newcastle midfielder, who now plies her trade with Wolfsburg in Germany’s Women’s Bundesliga, said Australian football was following the lead of other sports with better pay for women at W-League and international level.
“I think women’s sport in general in Australia is going in the right direction. You see what AFL are doing, even Cricket Australia with their contracts.
“With that comes a high level of professionalism and expectation, and that’s what we want to aim for, to be regarded among the other best countries in the world.”
Jets captain and Matildas left back Gema Simon, who also plays for Avaldsnes, did not take the field on Saturday but said the sellout crowd was “surreal”.
“Growing up in Newcastle and always wanting to play in the national team, to be able to do both at home is pretty special,” she said.
Simon and Logarzo will fly out of Australia on Wednesday and are due to play in Norway on Saturday.
Simon said she would return to Newcastle after her club commitments end on either November 4 or 18. The W-League starts on the last weekend in October.
WINNERS MATILDAS’ TICKETS
The winners of the Newcastle Herald Matildas ticket giveaway for the game in Newcastle on Tuesday night were:
Melinda Cullen, Brendon Farrar, George Cottrell, Steve Harrison and Emma Levine