Matildas confirming value of women's sport in Australia

It may have only been a two-game friendly series against Brazil, but for the Matildas the matches provided the opportunity on home soil to prove to the world and their fans they have the skill and ability to become the No.1 team in the FIFA rankings. More broadly, however, the matches provided a stage to show the strength of the Australian market for female sport.

At a time when the AFL and the NRL are each closing on their biggest events of the year, the Matildas' friendlies could easily have faded into the background - pushed aside by the madness that is finals footy. Instead, the fixtures stood out and provided a different story for young fans across Australia.

In the past 12 months, Australia has seen a huge growth in women's sport. The hugely successful inaugural AFLW season, which saw a lockout in the opening game of the competition and continued strong crowds throughout the season; the inaugural season of Super Netball, with a sell-out crowds throughout the season and huge television audiences; a growing Women's Big Bash League across the summer; Australia's teams taking part in the Women's Cricket World Cup and the Women's Rugby World World; and several more noteworthy female sporting tournaments; so the Matildas were joining a growing list of female sporting teams and athletes to show the future of women's sport in Australia.

"This week has been ground-breaking in terms of the game moving forward," Matildas coach Alen Stajcic said of the team's growing fan base after the second match in Newcastle. "I think we'll be looking back in 10 years' time and saying this was the week that football really turned in Australia.

"Everyone just came out and enjoyed the night. To come out on a Tuesday night and have such a big crowd is just a testament to how engaging the girls have been with all their media responsibilities, with all the corporate engagements, the fan interactions, and just being superb off the field; and when you play like that on the field it just gets the crowds more and more engaged."

The Matildas' first match against Brazil in Penrith sold out two weeks before kick-off and then more than 16,000 spectators in Newcastle made for a new record crowd figure for the team's fixtures at home, with fans from across the country scrambling to see the best female soccer stars in Australia produce the entertaining brand of soccer they'd only witnessed on TV at the Tournament of Nations just two months prior.

"It's unbelievable," Sam Kerr said after the Matildas' 3-2 win in Newcastle.

"We love that the crowd got behind us, and in the last few minutes there we really heard them. When the numbers came up, I think a few of the girls were pinching themselves ... I definitely was. Penrith was awesome, and then to top that four days later, it's unbelievable, can't believe it."

Crowds began to queue in front of McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle more than two hours before kick-off on Tuesday night, ready to see the Matildas continue their winning form against Brazil. As at Pepper Stadium, the lines stretched hundreds of metres back. Young girls dressed in their local soccer team shirts, or their newly acquired Matildas merchandise; mums and dads wore any gold shirt they could find, and still others made running repairs to their Socceroos jerseys to reflect the new No. 1 athletes in town.

The Matildas certainly lived up to the hype in front of the combined crowd number of more than 30,000 fans from Newcastle and Penrith -- plus thousands more watching at home. Kerr and her teammates impressed in winning the friendlies 2-1 and 3-2 respectively to bring their unbeaten run to five straight games and climb into the top five in the FIFA world rankings.

"It's just awesome to see the public get behind the women's team," Kerr said. "I think we're playing great football, so there's no reason for people not to get behind us."

The crowds chanted and cheered throughout the opening clash in Penrith, and sang "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi", as is expected at an Australian event, while the small group of Brazillian fans banged drums and chanted "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole". It was a fun and vibrant atmosphere as Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Cailtin Foord put on a show.

But it wasn't just the games that had the crowds gathering.

On Monday night, large numbers watched as the Matildas had their final training run ahead of the Tuesday fixture -- including members of the Mullumbimby Brunswick Valley Football Club, who took a 10-hour bus trip to watch their heroes at the open session.

After both games, young families waited around the ground for the chance to meet their favourite players, the women who are inspiring the next generation of Matildas. While after their opening clash, girls stuck around even after the players left the pitch, kicking their footballs around the fields outside the stadium -- trying to replicate Kerr's header or De Vanna's beautiful strike. Their efforts didn't go unnoticed by the players as they left the change rooms and headed to the team bus.

"Out of my whole 15-year career, this was probably the most sentimental moment," De Vanna told ESPN after the clash in Penrith. "I've been in this team for a long time and I've never dreamt that I'd be here to see that many people cheer on the Matildas.

"It's fantastic what the future holds, how much women's football has grown. But not just women's football, women's sport in general. I think it's fantastic that we're great role models and we give them the pathway that they have a future for the next generation."