Saturday, January 9, 2010

Australian women's football year in review - 2009

So there wasn't any World Cups, or even any World Cup qualifiers, but there was still plenty of women's football action in Australia, or involving Australia, last year. Here is a short-wrap of the year that was 2009 in Australian women's top-level football.

JANUARY - The first Westfield W-League finals series was played out between Brisbane Roar, Newcastle Jets, Canberra United and Sydney FC. In the two semi-finals, Canberra (third) upset Newcastle (second) to become the first team through to the inaugural grand final. In the other semi-final that followed, Sydney FC pushed Brisbane Roar all the way to penalties in searing heat in Brisbane. In the final that followed, injury hit Canberra hard in the week leading up and Brisbane pounced early to take a 2-0 win and the first premiership to go with their league championship. Lana Harch, who scored the second goal and set the first one up, was named player of the match. Also in January was a friendly match against Italy at Parramatta Stadium in Sydney, where Australian legend Cheryl Salisbury farewelled the game on January 31st.

After 151 games, the most out of any Australian footballer, Salisbury bowed out in the 2-2 draw. She was almost able to complete a fairytale ending, when she scored a penalty to take the score to 2-1 in the second-half. But Italy equalised with 10-minutes to go. Still, it didn't take away much from the occasion. I was one in the stands joining in on the standing ovation when she was substituted with six minutes to go. And there was hardly a dry eye on the field afterwards. As Tom Sermanni said in this Mike Cockerill story, she'll be missed.  "It's like when you're a kid, you come home from school and your mum's there, it makes you feel comfortable," Sermanni says. "Having Shezza around, you know when the team goes out on the field, the leadership is there. Her sheer presence gives you that sense of comfort. That's what we'll miss the most. There's not another Cheryl Salisbury, and there won't be for some time to come. But it's not just about the stature she brings. We talk about her reputation, but she's also been an outstanding player. She can play midfield, defence, or attack. The respect she's got is worldwide. When she played for the FIFA-All Stars, the coach, Hope Powell, said to me, 'I never realised how good a footballer she was.' It's on the field that Shezza is going to be almost impossible to replace." Read the rest of the story here. Pic. Salisbury being chaired off in Sydney.

FEBRUARY - The second of the Matildas friendlies against Italy did not go so well. It was the farewell match for Joey Peters, who was retiring after 110 games, and she took on the captain's armband for the game. But the Matildas lost 5-1 at Canberra Stadium, which is not how home-town debutant Ellie Brush (who just happens to be a central defender as well) wanted her first Matildas cap to go. It marked a changing in the guard for Australian women's football. Tom Sermanni admitted as much in his after-match press conference. “The first thing that went wrong was we conceded three goals in the first 15 minutes ...,” Sermanni said. “I think the second thing that was evident today was the fact that we are having a turnover in the squad.
“So when you put a combination of things together and add into that Cheryl retired last week and Joey retired today, you have I suppose the feeling of an Australian cricket team and it will take us a while to get back to where we were a year and a half ago.”
 Peters for her part was upset, but happy she had made the decision to retire. “I’m very emotional at the moment, It’s just all hit me at once, I was fine leading into the game and it just felt like another game but just as I was about to walk on the field it hit me all at once,” Peters said. “But I’m pleased with the decision and at peace with it.”

MARCH - A new era in women's professional football was also happening across the other side of the world and a handful of Matildas were involved in the inaugural season of the Women's Professional Soccer league. Heather Garriock (Chicago Red Stars), Sarah Walsh (Sky Blue FC), Lisa de Vanna (Washington Freedom) and Collette McCallum (Sky Blue FC) were all picked up in the first draft, and Lydia Williams earned the rookie goalkeeper spot after trialling strongly with Chicago. After the last attempt at a women's pro league in America went bust years ago, the new league started with eight teams across the states and paid all of its contracted players enough cash to live on. Pic: Lisa de Vanna in action in the WPS.

APRIL - The first ever under-14 girls national titles were held in Canberra and a team selected by new under-14 Australian coach Jeff Hopkins went on to compete in Asia. It's the youngest age-group that's ever had a national titles in Australia and adds another step in the pathway to becoming a Matilda.
AUGUST - The Young Matildas team misses out on qualifying for the 2010 under-20 FIFA Women's World Cup in controversial circumstances. And Tom Sermanni didn't hold back, calling the officials incompetent in this story. The story of the brawl that erupted in the match between China and Australia made nationwide news, with the AFC handing the FFA a $4700 fine.

But in happier news this month, Collette McCallum helped Sky Blue FC to complete a fairytale finish to the season and capture the first WPS premiership after defeating Los Angeles Sol (who had none other than Brazilian champion Marta in its team) in the final on August 22nd. In a journey that has to be read about to be believed, after three sacked coaches and then captain/coach Christie Rampone revealing she was actually pregnant while she coached the team and played in the final month, Sky Blue FC still triumphed. "...It was such an achievement to win and also with all the ups and downs that we did have, my team was just crazy in all the stuff we went through, so to get to the end and then actually win it, it was just great," McCallum told girlswithgame.

OCTOBER - The second season of the W-League kicks-off with the same eight teams, Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Canberra United, Melbourne Victory, Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets, but a host of new faces. There is new coaches at Canberra (Ray Junna), Perth (John Gibson) and Newcastle (Wayne O'Sullivan) and even more new captains. Clare Polkinghorne took over at Brisbane, Lydia Williams became a co-captain with Ellie Brush in Canberra, Melissa Barbieri became a co-captain with Tal Karp in Melbourne, Hayley Crawford stepped into the very big-shoes of Cheryl Salisbury at Newcastle and Chistina Papageorgiou took the armband at Adelaide.
NOVEMBER - The Australian under-16 girls team fail to qualify for the 2010 under-17 Women's World Cup. After going undefeated throughout the round stages at the 2009 under-16 AFC women's championships, the Robbie Hooker coached team just came up against a Korean side that just kept coming and ended-up winning 4-3 in a thriller. It means apart from the Matildas, an Australian underage team hasn't qualified for a FIFA junior World Cup since 2006. They haven't qualified through Asia once. Out of all teams, this one had high expectations with players like Sam Kerr, Emily van Egmond and Tara Andrews, but they missed out by the smallest margin when they went down in the third-placed play-off against Japan. They would have played in the final if they had beaten Korea Republic. Instead North Korea, South Korea and Japan went through. You can re-cap the campaign, including previews with Hooker in my November archives and the original preview here.

DECEMBER - After a W-League season that turned into a three-team race, Sydney FC down the Central Coast Mariners in the final-round of regular season games to take the league championship by a single point. They then thumped Canberra United in their semi-final despite being a player down, with Canberra only just sneaking into fourth spot courtesy of a Perth win over Melbourne and better goal difference than the the Victory, to win a home final. In the other semi, Brisbane Roar ended the Mariners chances of a fairytale season with a 1-0 win in that semi. It set-up the final that everyone had predicted at the start of the year though, with almost every player who started in the grand final either a Matilda or a Danish international (Sydney FC's Cathrin Paaske and Julie Rydahl). In a thriller where Brisbane Roar scored first, Sydney then scored three brilliant second-half goals to claim its second title for the 2009 season. The Roar did score a late goal to make it 3-2, but Sydney already had the game wrapped-up. Alen Stajcic was a very happy coach. "It was a fantastic second-half performance," Stajcic declared. "It often takes us 15-20 minutes to warm up into but once a game settles, we play the football we want and we get on top and that is what happened today."
"I thought in that half-hour spell in the second half we could have got five or six goals."
"We really dominated and scored some good goals, and probably could have scored a few more."
"Brisbane obviously had to come at us in the last 15 minutes so they were a little bit exposed at the back." And while Michelle Heyman couldn't complete her amazing year, from Sydney FC sub in season one to golden boot winner in 2009, with a finals appearance, the Mariner who could did finish with plenty of personal glory as the Julie Dolan medallist for season 2009. Heyman scored 11 goals in the season, including a hat-trick. In the other major awards, Perth pocket-rocket Sam Kerr won Players' Player, Ellyse Perry and Elise Kellond-Knight tied the young player of the year and Ray Junna (Canberra) and Stephen Roche (Mariners) tied the coaches award. For a full list of the winners, see here.

And that's all folks. But did I miss anything? Feel free to comment away!

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