For almost 15 years, four-time World Cup veteran Lydia Williams has played an important role in the Matildas evolution from underdogs to top dogs.
But even now – as one of the top seeds on the biggest stage of them all, she finds herself humbled by Australia’s growing allegiance for their affectionately known ‘Tillies’.
Williams was selected for her first World Cup in 2007 when she was 19 years old. The youngster didn’t play in China but did get a start at Germany 2011.
By the time Canada 2015 rolled around, Williams was fully fledged – and as the first-string goalkeeper, her safe hands guided the Matildas to the quarterfinals.
Now, at her fourth World Cup, Williams reflected on the changes the team has undergone – how they view themselves, how they are viewed by the world and the effects of their newfound persona, both on and off the pitch.
“In the past, we haven’t really had a lot of pressure on us, we’ve mostly been seen as an underdog team and that’s what we’ve been used to performing as,” the 31-year-old said.
She hinted that the Matildas controversial 3-2 loss to Italy could be partially attributed to the pressure of not playing where they’re most comfortable – as the underdog.
“The game against Italy could have been that [not coming in as underdogs] but in saying that, Aussies know how to bounce back. This team knows how to bounce back and we did that in the second game," Williams said.
“Right now, we’re in a really good headspace and we understand what’s needed to perform. We put those games behind us, we can’t focus on the past – we focus on the present.”
Shedding their ‘little Aussie battler’ title for a more suitable ‘one to beat’ has undoubtedly come with an increase in coverage, interest and opinion and the 2015 edition of the World Cup was where Williams really noticed a change.
“It was in Canada that we made the Round of 16 and beat Brazil - and we really noticed a big influx of Aussie journalists coming over. Since then, up until the Tournament of Nations we’ve noticed a lot of interest in the team, especially here in France, it’s been amazing,” she said.
“People are getting behind us and coming out to speak about the World Cup. I think it shows the leaps and bounds that have been made in women’s football.”
Williams observations aren’t without justification, according to FIFA, this year’s World Cup has had double the amount of accredited journalists covering the competition, compared to 2015.
“You can see how it’s progressed, there are a lot more supporters, media and journalists,” she said.
“These days you see young kids out on the streets wearing jerseys of all the different players and it’s not just men’s jerseys anymore. They’ve got a female footballer's last name on their back and to think there’s been that kind of progress and that much more interest over 12 years, is just incredible.”
For Williams, one of the biggest highlights has been witnessing the growth of the Matildas fan base, not only those who tune in at home or come down to watch local games but those who are willing to travel across the world to support their team.
Williams recalled looking up and seeing a sea of green and gold at Stade de la Mosson when the Matildas took on Brazil last week, defeating the Canarinhas 3-2.
“I just think it’s amazing. Normally back home we get family and friends, maybe the Green and Gold Army – but especially in Montpellier we had a whole extra section of Aussies and we thought, ‘Where did they come from?!’ so it’s nice to see not just the people we know, but new fans that are getting on the bandwagon.”