Fuelled by a 10 match unbeaten streak, including 7 wins in a row, the Matildas climbed to their highest ever ranking of world number 4.
Few things in sport cause arguments more than a list of rankings, and whether they really mean anything.
However, in the case of the FIFA Women’s World Rankings, a team’s position is of paramount importance come tournament time as they dictate the seedings for major tournaments such as the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics.
The Matildas came into 2017 ranked sixth, good enough for the final seed if they are to qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but an Algarve Cup campaign that saw the side come away with a loss to Sweden and a draw with Denmark alongside wins over Netherlands and China saw the Australian side drop to eighth in the world rankings in the March release, falling behind both Japan and Sweden.
Whilst the Matildas did not play a game in the next three month calculation period, Sweden’s losses to Canada and the US in home friendlies saw them drop 21 points to fall behind the Matildas in the June release, with the Matildas’ next games to come at the Tournament of Nations in the United States.
With all games worth double points due all four teams being ranked in the Top 10, the Tournament of Nations had the potential to shake up the rankings. Facing the USA first up, the Matildas risked few points, but had the chance to gain plenty.
Notching a famous 1-0 win, the Matildas banked a swag of points, and after demolishing Japan and Brazil, finished the tournament 43 points better off and back in sixth position with a 40 point gap over the now seventh-placed Netherlands.
However, in terms of the Matildas’ ranking, the best was yet to come. With fans crying out for a chance to watch their heroes at home, the Matildas would play two friendlies against both Brazil and China.
Sitting on 2019 points, the Australians were within striking distance of Canada, France, and England, all of whom were within 18 points of the Matildas, with all four teams playing multiple games before the December 15 rankings release.
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However, with the Matildas sitting well above both Brazil and China in the rankings, wins were imperative to not only close the gap to the trio immediately above them, but also to not drop points and slip back within the grasp of the chasing pack.
Any fears of dropping points were swiftly assuaged courtesy of victories over Brazil in front of packed houses in Penrith and Newcastle, which delivered near enough to seven points, taking the Matildas to a total of 2026.
Those results, combined with Canada finishing with a draw and a loss from their home-and-away friendlies against the USA, and France capitulating in a 4-0 loss to Germany before drawing with Sweden, saw the Matildas move into prime position to secure the 4th spot in the rankings.
With China no longer in the world’s top 10, double points were not at stake in November’s friendlies, but losses in both games would still have seen the Matildas drop enough points to fall back either between or behind Canada and France. As it was though, the 3-0 and 5-1 demolitions of the Steel Roses proved enough to push the Matildas to 2030 points, ahead of Canada, who fell to 2023 points, and France, who fell to 2019.
Now sitting in fourth place, the Matildas have achieved their highest ever ranking, surpassing the fifth place that they reached in 2016 following their success in the Olympic Qualifying tournament, and it now stands that the US and Germany are the only teams to have sat above the Matildas in every World Rankings release.
They also sit five places clear of the 2nd highest AFC nation, Japan, whose ranking suffered, partially at the hands of the Matildas, during the Tournament of Nations.
It could have been even better, though. Shortly before the rankings were released, England played the relatively lowly-ranked Kazakhstan in a World Cup Qualifier. Leading just 1-0 with half an hour to play, the Lionesses stood to lose enough points to drop below Australia, but a late-game blitzkrieg saw the game end 5-0, leaving the English side just three rankings points above the Matildas.
With a packed international calendar in 2018, three points barely represents a gap, especially with an Asian Cup coming up for the Matildas and World Cup qualifiers happening all around the world.
Perhaps most importantly, the Matildas remain 58 points clear of seventh-placed Netherlands, meaning that they remain firmly entrenched in a seeding position should they qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.