We caught up with all seven of Sydney FC’s Asian Cup winning Matildas – and they are a happy bunch.
Seven of Sydney FC-s W-League championship winning stars were part of the historic Westfield Matildas squad that claimed the 2010 Women-s Asian Cup in China on Sunday night after they beat Korea DPR 5-4 on penalties.
It was the first time that an Australian team has brought home the biggest trophy in Asian football; a remarkable achievement given Australia only joined the confederation in 2006.
We caught up with the girls at Sydney International Airport upon their arrival home.
1. It would be fair to say you won this tournament on the back of your solid defence, not conceding many goals. What do you put this down to?
2. You played a full game in the final in horrid conditions, how do you look back on the match?
It was a very, very difficult match. I mean being up 1-0 then going down and having to play an extra half an hour. But I thought we played really well and again, solid in defence and [we] kept them out.
3. What was running through your mind during the penalty shootout?
We-re going to win this.
4. What does it mean to be able to share this experience with so many of your Sydney FC teammates?
It-s lovely. It-s great to have Sydney girls that I train with and see day-to-day and being able to play with them on the big stage. And win!
5. Now that you-re the Champions of Asia, does that give the girls more confidence heading into the World Cup next year?
Yeah, it gives us a lot of confidence. I mean, coming into the tournament I didn-t think everyone thought that we could actually win this and now that we have I think we-ve got enormous confidence.
6. The team has exceeded expectations at the Asian Cup, has the group now set any goals for the World Cup?
Let-s win it! Let-s win the World Cup!
1. You came into the match just after the Koreans equalised and they were really pushing for the winner. What was the feeling like at that stage?
We had 1-1 and I just had to give it all I-ve got and I know the girls had worked so hard and gave it such a gutsy effort, you know, throughout that hundred minutes. So I just had to come on and make that difference and give it all I-ve got and whatever happens, happens.
2. You successfully converted your penalty in the shootout, what was going through your mind at the time?
It was all nerves, though I didn-t show it all that much, but I just had to be as confident as I could and, you know, believe in yourself and be willing for that ball to hit the back of the net and it was just an amazing feeling to come away with that bit of silverware.
3. The girls held their nerve to score five from five, were penalties something you were working on in the build up to the match?
We did one previous training session before that, but I rolled my ankle so I didn-t even get to take one penalty. But like I-ve said before I can-t remember the last time I-ve taken a penalty, to be honest. I just kind of had that feeling, you know, when you believe in yourself and you just go for the opportunity and that-s what I did, I stuck my hand up and said ‘Yeah, I-m willing to take it- and it came away on the better side of things, which is nice because I don-t think I-d put my hand up for another one if I missed.
4. What does it mean for you to be able to share this experience with so many of your Sydney FC teammates?
Yeah it-s great to come back to training and to have something under our belt and to have another silverware for the cabinet is a great feeling, but I-m sure all the girls back here are just as proud as all of us girls are of each other. It-s just good to have that great feeling amongst us and I-m sure that will stay with us for the World Cup next year.
5. What are you looking forward to most about next year-s World Cup in Germany?
It-s going to be a great tournament I think. The team is already gelling well as it is and we-ve still got sort of a year ahead of us and it-s just going to be great to mingle with the best teams in the world and to see how we really go against them. We-ve won the Asian Cup now and to go in with something under our belts will be a big confidence booster for all the girls.
6. Does it make it a bit more special, considering the team is so young and they really came together for the first time during this tournament?
Yeah definitely, we-ve kind of lost our, you could say ‘backbone- or older girls of the team but we-ve reacted well. We have a lot of young girls in the team and we-re familiar with each other since that start of the year. But we-ve really gelled well and the team morale is amazing to be in and it just makes you want to be there and be around all of the girls. We just get along so well and it produces great teamwork.
1. Leena, you were unlucky not to come on for the final, but what was it like to be part of the first Aussie team to win the Asian Cup?
You know, just to be part of the team is just phenomenal. It-s a great feeling to be there. To get on [the pitch] is one thing, but to be there is just great.
2. You scored the first goal in the Vietnam game, what was it like to score the first goal in the opening game?
It was the first game with a bit of nerves and I think I calmed a few of those nerves down [with the first goal]. To get the first goal of the Asian Cup tournament, no one can take that away from me, so I-m pretty proud about that.
3. Is the success of the team a bit more special for you, being able to share it with so many of your Sydney FC teammates?
Yeah, playing with half of the girls that I play with at Sydney FC is just great because we know each other so well and to have that many from your own club play in the national team – it just shows how well we-re all doing back at home.
4. Now with this success, how do you see the girls faring at next year-s World cup?
The girls, they made a benchmark at the last World Cup, which was great as they made the quarterfinals. You want to go one better every time you go into something new. Last Asian Cup was losing in the grand final to China, this time we-ve come away with the win. So, hopefully, we go one better [at the World Cup] and scare the teams over there now that they know we-re the Asian champions.
1. You were injured for the final, how much of a disappointment was that for you?
It was a pretty big disappointment obviously I wanted to play but four weeks prior to that I had surgery so it was a little bittersweet as I didn-t actually get any game time [in the final], but the fact that I got three games in there, I was pretty happy with that.
2. How nervous were you during the final, watching from the sideline?
Oh, it-s terrible watching. I don-t know how coaches or supporters do it; I really don-t, because at least when you-re out there you have some control over what happens. But, it was terrible; it was a lot harder coming off in that Japan game and having to watch the last half hour. Yeah, it was gut-wrenching.
3. Injury aside, you-re a regular in the team. How excited are you for next year-s World Cup?
Very excited, I have a lot of work to do before then. I have to maybe get an arthroscope tomorrow to sort my knee out again and then head back to Boston to try and finish off the league there, which we have four months left there so I-d like to get a few games in. It will be good preparation for next year.
4. From what you know so far, how long are you looking likely to be out for?
Probably four to six weeks. Again, it-s nothing serious but one would say that maybe I did come back a little bit early, but I didn-t really have much choice, to be honest.
5. The girls put in an impressive performance overall in the 2007 World Cup, has that set a new standard for next year in Germany?
It has, definitely, I mean its set a new standard for what we-ve actually just done now and, you know, I think we finally have Asia figured out, but we didn-t have that figured out last Olympic qualifiers. Now we can take that into the World Cup and hopefully get some game time with European and other types of football as well.
1. What is it like to be a part of the first ever Australian squad to win the Asian Cup?
It-s awesome, a great experience for me playing with all the older girls and it-s just an awesome experience to have.
2. You made your Matildas debut, coming off the bench against Vietnam. What was that feeling like running on to the pitch?
I was nervous, excited, overwhelmed all at the same time. I was just excited to go on the field.
3. You-re teammates with several of the girls at Sydney FC. Does that make the overall success a bit more special being able to share it with the rest of the Sydney girls?
It was heaps of fun having friends on the team and I made friends with all the people involved. It was just awesome.
4. You-re only 16, so there-s a good chance you have plenty more tournaments of this calibre in store. Is that what you-re hoping to achieve in the future?
Yes, I want to make the World Cup squad. I just want to be a part of this all again.
5. How excited are you now for the upcoming World Cup in Germany?
So excited. I reckon it-d be the best experience by far.
1. You converted your penalty during the shootout, what was running through your mind at the time?
I was nervous walking up to it and as soon as I put my hand up to take one I was very nervous. But I knew no matter how hard or how the penalty shootout went, we worked hard to get where we were. We qualified for the World Cup and when I got to the spot I just had to focus on where I was going to put it and make sure the keeper had to make a good save if it-s going to miss. So that was pretty much what was going through my head.
2. The girls missed a few good opportunities in normal time, was there ever a feeling that the team may have let the match slip?
There was a time when I was warming up and I was not doubting the team, but I thought the North Koreans had a few chances. There were a few pushes into the box that I was just like ‘Whoa, lucky they didn-t score- but I had confidence in our girls from us coming off the bench that we would overcome what they threw at us, so we had just as many chances as they did so I was pretty confident.
3. You-re champions of Asia now. What does that mean for this group of players?
I think it-s just the beginning. Even though we are Asian Champions, I think we want to do well on the World stage in the World Cup in Germany and I think for us we-ve just got to work hard individually and as a team to be just as successful as we were in the Asian Cup during the World Cup and to actually make the semi-final or final.
4. Is the success for you a bit more special, given that you shared it with several of your Sydney FC teammates?
Oh definitely, it-s always more fun and exciting when you-ve got some friends in the team and especially us winning the W-League last year was a high and to go away with the girls and still play with them is just a massive bonus for me. When you-re away for a month you want to be with people that you know and get along with and that-s one of the strengths of our team – we-re very close and we bond very well together. So, yeah it-s definitely a bonus to have the Sydney girls in there.
5. What are you hoping to achieve at next year-s World Cup?
Definitely in the semis, that would be an achievement for the team to get into the semis. I think that we-ve got a great bunch of players that will help us get there and the Asian Cup was just the beginning. Individually, I want to make the squad – that-s the first thing [laughs] and to get myself as fit and healthy as possible so I can come off that bench as one of the three subs. But as a team, semi finals would have to be one of our goals and once we get there, we can just go from there.
*Heather Garriock was unavailable as the Sydney FC and Matildas star flew directly from China to Denmark to fulfil her European club commitments.