Sport Football World Cup 2023: Matildas back in town as hosts of football’s biggest stage
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World Cup 2023: Matildas back in town as hosts of football’s biggest stage

Back in town: Sam Kerr lights up the Sydney Opera House on Thursday night. Photo: AsOne2023
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The Matildas have long kicked their way to the top echelon of world football despite formidable odds – in 2023 they will get to do it at home on the biggest stage of all as they host a World Cup.

The confirmation that Australia and New Zealand will jointly host the next FIFA Women’s World Cup between July 10 and August 10 in 2023 is a monumental moment for the sport down under.

The joint bid won the backing of FIFA delegates in Zurich over the only other bidder Colombia, with Japan’s withdrawal on Monday proving crucial to solidifying the votes of Asian delegates.

Brazil had dropped out of contention earlier in June due to a lack of government support.

The bid for the 32-team tournament proposes 13 stadiums in 12 cities across Australia and New Zealand, with the team preferring that a minimum of 10 be used – five in each country.

Under the bid, Auckland’s Eden Park is scheduled to host the opening game, with Sydney’s Stadium Australia pencilled in for the final.

Other Australian venues include Lang Park in Brisbane, Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium, Perth Oval, Newcastle stadium, Melbourne’s AAMI Park and Launceston’s York Park.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura presents the 2023 Bid Evaluation Report to the FIFA Council. Photo: FIFAWWC/Twitter

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian PM Scott Morrison both featured in the final presentation, with the Sydney Opera House and Auckland’s Sky Tower lit up on Thursday to mark the moment.

There are 37 FIFA Council members but only 35 voted, with New Zealand’s Johanna Wood and Colombia’s Ramon Jesurun ineligible.

Following Japan’s withdrawal, the joint bid consolidated its voting power in Asia, with FIFA Council vice-president Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa pledging the AFC’s support.

Oceania had already backed the joint bid.

Australia and New Zealand received the highest score in FIFA’s technical evaluation, earning 4.1 out of five in the report compared to Colombia’s 2.8.

The joint bid was also considered more commercially lucrative, which is a compelling factor for FIFA. as proven by Australia’s disastrous attempt in 2010 to win the 2022 men’s event controversially won by Qatar.

In that compromised process Australia scored just one vote having spent $46 million on a bid that the FIFA president Sepp Blatter said “Had no chance. Not a chance. Never”.

Blatter would later be disgraced over corruption allegations, but his true feelings on the Australian bid were reported on the ABC by former Football Federation Australia executive Bonita Mersiades in Zurich.

Ms Mersiades said she was told Australia could not win the 2022 bid because it could not compete with the money being offered to broadcast the games from elsewhere.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino announces that the joint Australia-NZ bid has won. Photo: FIFA.com

That dark history was forgotten overnight in the joy of winning the 2023 tournament with the joint bid, albeit in the straightened circumstances brought about by a global pandemic.

The Matildas have long been Australia’s premier female sporting team and they’ll fancy their chances as a settled line-up prepares to play the game’s biggest event on home soil.

The Australian cricketers have grabbed much of the recent limelight, but the Matildas play a game that is the pinnacle of sport worldwide, and despite battling for many years against a lack of recognition have steadily improved their standing.

They currently sit No.7 in the world behind the USA, Germany France, Netherlands, England and Sweden, having endured a disappointing World Cup in which they failed to make the quarter-finals.

The Matildas also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by overpowering Vietnam over home-and-away legs in March.

Led by Sam Kerr, who is a star at the peak of her powers, the team’s stunning displays over many years were finally recognised in November when the FFA agreed to give them equal pay and travelling conditions as the Socceroos.

-with AAP