Before the A-League, W-League, Matildas and Socceroos' modern era all revolutionised football in Australia, 20 years ago, Australia welcomed the best footballers in the world. With the Matildas set to star at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics and then host the 2023 Women's World Cup, it begs the question...what was it like to host the best female footballers in the world in Sydney 2000?
SWIPE THROUGH THE INCREDIBLE (AND TYPICALLY AUSSIE) SYDNEY 2000 FOOTBALL GALLERY ABOVE!
Soon after a ground breaking '99 World Cup, women's football was enjoying a surge in profile and many players who we now consider legends of the sport were representing their countries as Olympians in Sydney. With the 2023 World Cup on the horizon, we look back at some of the international greats who lit up the 2000 Games.
Mia Hamm was the biggest name in women's football at the time, the USA attacker had starred at the previous World Cup, leading her team to victory and literally playing herself to the point of collapse in the final, requiring an Intravenous Drip after the match to recover.
Hamm was a fast, aggressive forward, globally feared with an ability to cruise through defenses or drop deep to link play. She arrived at the Olympics in top form and justified her reputation, scoring in the opening game and netting the decider in the semi final against Brazil. Hamm was joined by almost the entire US World Cup winning side, including the other big name Brandi Chastain, who famously scored the winning penalty of that tournament and adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated.
German legend Birgit Prinz was on the cusp of greatness at the Sydney Olympics, she scored three goals for the tournament and lead her side to a Bronze medal finish, in the years following the tournament, Prinz was awarded the FIFA player of the year, in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and is regarded as one of the best German players of all time.
Another big star of the 2000 Olympics was Chinese captain Sun Wen, 27 at the time and fresh from winning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball as the best player at USA99. Sun Wen snapped up another top scorer award with four goals, despite China not making it past the group stage.
It might be hard to imagine now, but Brazil's eternal midfielder Formiga was once a 22 year old with promising potential, she formed part of a Brazil team that played in front of over 58,000 people at the MCG and finished in fourth place after previously ending Australia's tournament in the group stage. Formiga's World Cup history is well known, but she is also the only player to have featured in every Olympic Women's Football Tournament since it began in 1996.
Norway might have been a surprise Gold Medalist at the time but history shows that they had an all time great in their side, Helga Riise was 31 at the time and the midfielder was a serial winner who ended her career boasting a World Cup win and a European Championship to accompany her Sydney Olympic Gold Medal.
The 2000 Olympics were a groundbreaking moment in the history of The Matildas, they were well supported with impressive, enthusiastic crowds at each of their games, proving a public appetite for women's football existed and showing that they could compete with the rest of the world. Beyond the home team, the game itself benefit as a whole. Australian football fans have rarely had the opportunity to witness so many top class footballers at once in competitive fixtures.
In 2023, the players might have changed (except maybe Formiga) but the chance to witness greatness will arrive again. We will see the very best the world has to offer including some in Green and Gold at the World Cup in our backyard. Sydney 2000 football's superstars shared the stage with other events yet still drew impressive crowds and left a lasting impact. In three years they will be the main event.