Football NSW have given 28 young girls a once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse themselves in French culture and hone their footballing skills against different nations during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The tour is one they will never forget, but not just for the playing experience.
Talented Player Program Administrator and Head of Delegation, Nadine Shiels, she said the opportunities that the young players have received in France have been invaluable to their development.
“To experience a FIFA Women’s World Cup and to be exposed to the highest level of women’s football in the world, is an opportunity unlike any other,” she said.
“To support our very own Matildas, is a great inspiration to us all – our aim is to expose our young elite players to a level of football that we one day envisage they may be a part of.
“The football development, knowledge, cultural differences that the players, parents and coaches are being exposed to, will set them up for success in the future and leave them with skills and memories to last a lifetime,” she continued.
The U13’s and U15’s teams participated in four international friendlies across France, testing the skills they have already acquired, but also presenting them with some new challenges, including extra physicality and playing an unfamiliar format (8v8).
“The French are quite physical, but from a technical perspective they aren’t better than us,” Shiels said.
“So, in the games that we’ve lost or the games that we’ve conceded goals for example, it wasn’t through technique or inefficient style of play, it was more due to the physicality differences between the two teams.
“We stayed with our playing style and our philosophy on how we wanted to play – so the girls didn’t steer away from that, but it was a challenge to put some goals away against the French teams.
“From a playing perspective, these games will have taught the girls to be a little bit more physical on the ball when they need to, to be more creative and to take more risks.
As for what she thinks will be most memorable for the youngsters, Shiels conceded that at the end of the day, these young footballers support the Matildas just as much as the rest of Australia, so they arranged a special treat.
“The biggest highlights have been testing ourselves against the opposition, but obviously the purpose of the tour was to support the Matildas and watch their games. I think the biggest highlight for the girls has been the Brazil game, where the Matildas won 3-2. The kids were pretty ecstatic,” she said.
But it was what came after, that was the real cherry on top for the young players.
“We surprised the girls and arranged to have them attend a Matildas training session, where they got to meet the players,” Shiels explained.
“The energy you could see in them, after the Brazil game and after they got to meet the Matildas, was just incredible.
“There’s definitely inspiration there, the girls know every player. You could hear them talking football in the stands – analysing the Matildas’ games.
“Watching a team who you one day want to play for is definitely inspiring for these girls, because of how much they look up to the Matildas.
“Lisa De Vanna spent some extra time with the group, which they loved – and it’s little things like that, that drive them and make them want to do their best.
“Afterwards, they were singing karaoke on the bus on the way home. We couldn’t get them to stop talking about the experience – they were just loving life!”
The biggest take away Shiels wants the group to bring home with them is around teamwork and adaptability.
“After the first game, there was a bit of a struggle with dynamics. There were players coming from different clubs, some from the Institute program and some from the country who hadn’t played together before. There was a bit of a split both on and off the pitch,” she explained.
“We sat down with the girls and said that if one day they wanted to represent the country, which is what we want for them – they’re going to have to learn to work together because the Matildas deal with exactly the same thing. They all play for different clubs, they’re all over the world during the season, but then they’re required to come together and perform.
“Having to adapt is a big learning curve, but I hope this experience goes a long way in showing them how important it is.”
Match 1: U13’s draw 1-1, U15’s loss 3-5 (Northern France Institute)
Match 2: U13’s won 3-1, U15’s loss 1-3 (Montpellier Herault Sports Club)
Match 3: U13’s won 2-0 vs Thailand, then 3-0 vs Grenoble. U15’s loss 1-3 (Deux Rochers FC Grenoble)
Match 4: U13’s won 4-0, U15’s won 2-1 (Evell de Lyon FC)
U13’s – Avani Prakash x4, Piper Scott x 2, Milly Boughton x 2, Alexia Saltirov x 2, Riley Welsh
U15’s – Bryleeh Henry x 2, Aimee Longhurst, Claudia Cicco, Isabella Chidiac, Bianca Radman
Riley Welsh, Milly Boughton, Caterina Mazzotta, Alexia Saltirov, Abbey Crapp, Piper Scott, Francesca Scott, Charlotte Hogan, Libby Morris, Emily Brewster, Avaani Prakash, Molly Peake, Charlotte Stubbs, Ebony Warner-Chilstone.
Aimee Longhurst, Isabella Chidiac, Tarsha Wayne, Tayla Bondy, Menzi White, Chantelle Maniti, Zayra Plebani, Claudia Cicco, Kate Duffy, Bryleeh Henry, Bianca Radman, Isabella Sciberras, Harriet Shuttleworth, Chloe Lincoln
-By Liana Buratti