It was 25 years ago this past weekend when the Matildas made their World Cup debut in the lakeside city of Vasteras, in central Sweden.
In front of 1,500 people, Julie Murray led the Australians against Denmark at the Arosvallen.
“I remember how proud I was to be representing Australia and leading them out,” recalls Murray, who played 68 times and in two World Cups for Australia over a 13-year career.
Murray had scored one of the most important goals in Matildas' history the previous year, when her winner against New Zealand in the Oceania Cup had sealed Australia’s spot for Sweden 1995.
Unfortunately, the Matildas had a tough day at the office against the Danes in their World Cup opener on 6 June 1995, a 5-0 loss wasn’t the ideal start to their World Cup history but it was a start.
“It was 25 years ago, but I can say it was a tough day at the office against Denmark,” laughs Murray.
Gitte Krogh scored a double for the Danes while Anne Dot Eggers Nielsen, Helle Jensen and Christina Hansen also found the back of the net.
Matildas defender Sonia Gegenhuber found herself with an unwanted piece of history, seeing red right on halftime to leave the Aussies with only 10 women.
Australia’s other two group games ended with a 4-2 loss to China and a 4-1 defeat at the hands of USA.
While the losses were disappointing, there were some players who stood up and showed they could compete on the world stage.
“I have no doubt, without question, that Lisa Casagrande, Angela Ianotta and Sunni Hughes would have been up there for sure,” says Murray. “I’d say when Kym Lembryk and Michelle Watson were on the pitch, they brought a bit of technical flair to the game too.”
While the 1995 campaign didn’t evoke a lot of fanfare back home, it was a pivotal moment for Australian women’s football. Murray admits though it was also a wake-up call for Australia’s women footballers.
“The tournament showed that we had a long way to go and a lot more effort must be put into the women’s game if we were ever to be real world-stage contenders.”
Fast forward a quarter of a century and the Matildas are ranked number seven according to FIFA’s standings. They are now also Australia’s most popular sporting team. Many play in the W-League while a lot have been picked up by the biggest clubs in the world.
The hosts for the 2023 World Cup will be announced on 25 June, and there is every chance Australia may have the honour.
“I think it would be wonderful to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup,” says Murray. “It would mean a lot for women’s sports in general.”
The Australian team from that opening game against Denmark was:
Tracey Wheeler, Alison Forman, Anissa Tann-Darby, Sonia Gegenhuber (sent off 45'), Sarah Cooper, Michelle Watson, Cheryl Salisbury (subbed by Angela Iannotta 57'), Julie Murray (c), Jane Oakley, Lisa Casagrande (Lizzie Claydon 79'), Sunni Hughes (Kim Lembryk 57').