- Former Australia captain Cheryl Salisbury recalls China 2007
- First time the country reached the knockout stages of the World Cup
- Salisbury's goal against Canada still resonates for the Matildas today
On a personal level, Cheryl Salisbury had achieved much heading into her final FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 2007. Not only is Salisbury Australia’s most capped male or female footballer - her tally of 151 appearances is unlikely to be topped in the foreseeable future – and, though a central defender, she was even the nation’s highest goalscorer at the time although her tally has subsequently been eclipsed by Kate Gill and Lisa De Vanna.
The stalwart captain had been a key figure for all five of Australia’s appearances on the world stage – three Women’s World Cup and two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments – prior to China 2007. Her CV also includes the rare feat of two appearances in a FIFA All-Stars matches.
But there was one part of the puzzle missing, both for Salisbury and the Matildas – qualification to the knockout stage of a Women’s World Cup. China 2007 has been earmarked as a gilt-edged opportunity to finally achieve that long-awaited breakthrough. Australia opened with a one-sided 4-1 win over Ghana, and then collected a 1-1 draw against Norway as the Matildas gave the former Women’s World Cup winners a massive test. Qualification, however, would hinge on earning at least a draw against Canada in the final group match.
Despite a strong showing in an evenly-balanced contest, Australia were behind 2-1 as the clock ticked past 90 minutes in Chengdu. What happened next was almost too implausible even for an imaginative fiction-writer.
Salisbury is more than happy to discuss what happened next. Indeed it is a tale she has relayed on numerous occasions since. “It is all still pretty clear in my mind, almost like yesterday,” Salisbury told FIFA.com. “[Coach] Tommy [Sermanni] threw me forward for the final minutes, as he had done for many years for Australia and New York Power. It didn’t work too often, but this was definitely the best experience of it working.
“Near the end there were a few heads down. One of my mottos is ‘it only takes 30 seconds to score a goal’. I told [forward] Lisa De Vanna to get her head up, because we can win it in four or five passes. That is how it turned out after Mother Hen told her [De Vanna] not to let her head drop! She took the ball up the sideline and everyone gravitated to her because she is so hard to stop when she gets going, and that left me free in the box and that was it.”
De Vanna forced the ball into the penalty area from the left and Salisbury was on hand to tuck away the most important goal of her career. “It was a bit of a skew and it took a bit of bobble, but it went where I wanted it to,” Salisbury says, smiling at the memory. “I was simply aiming to put it back across the keeper where she was coming from. I wasn’t thinking ‘oh my god, this could put us through to the next round’, it was just a case of putting it in. It was a great feeling of finally something going our way.”
Riding out the storm
The match had been delayed a day due to a typhoon warning, adding an extra layer of tension to the contest. Both Australia and Canada were on the bus ready to head to the stadium, when news came through of the postponement. “It was a tough ask to go from the high of being ready to play, and some of the younger ones struggled. There was a different feeling on the bus the next day, and a bit more nervousness and that impacted with a slow start.
“In the end there was a lot jubilation among the older players, because we weren’t packing up after the group stage which is all we had ever done in the past. I remember [defender] Di Alagich running up to me saying: ‘We finally did it’.
Despite the unforgettable highlights reel moment, Salisbury says she doesn’t nominate her goal against Canada as a clear high. The long-serving skipper also pointed to a draw against USA at the 2004 Olympic Games – a first-ever result against the north Americans – as a turning point.
“After that game against the US, we went out with the mentality that we could beat them. And we passed on that belief to the younger players who came through, so that result was a big moment too.”
Australia lost 3-2 against Brazil in the subsequent quarter-final, repeating the feat at both Germany 2011 and Canada 2015. While a newly-minted version of the national competition – the W-League – was established in the wake of the interest generated by the Matildas’ success in China.
“It was a big turning point for the team and the Matildas,” said Salisbury. “And it was a real cherry on top of the pie that I managed to score the goal after all those years and games.”