Cue the party! Looking back on the Matildas' World Cup run

In the space of three days, the Matildas have gone from announcing the venue for their Olympic qualifier against Uzbekistan to selling it out.

It shouldn't come as a surprise; it's the 12th straight home game the team has sold out, stretching back to the World Cup warm-up match against France at the start of July 2023.

We now live in an Australia where conversations about venues to host the Matildas centre on their capacity.

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The MCG is floated as an option, not as a joke, but because its 100,024 seats might make a dent in meeting the demand for tickets. And reservations about the ground -- configuration or curse related -- are secondary to the fact that the Matildas would almost certainly sell it out, too, if they were to play a game there.

There isn't a stadium in the country big enough for the number of people who want to see the Matildas.

It's a wonderful, dizzying sign of the progress of the women's game in Australia, as well as the strength of the post-World Cup glow.

It's a signal that this new world we have entered isn't a mirage. There is so much to look forward to in this sport, and with this team in particular.

But it isn't just about the football. The cultural impact of this team on Australia continues to show itself in new and fantastic ways.

Australia National University announced "Matilda" as its word of the year. Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler were the two most googled Australians.

The Matildas won the prestigious Don award, becoming only the third team to do so behind the Women's World Cup-winning cricketers in 2020 and the 2006 Socceroos.

That it was the team that won, and not any individual, speaks to the power of the Matildas and the story of their World Cup.

A squad with one of the most recognisable faces in world football showed up and showed out when their captain couldn't take to the pitch, and made sure the whole nation knew who they were.

It isn't just big awards and magazine covers and millions of Google hits, either.

There are little reminders everywhere.

Tattoos serve as literal permanent snapshots of moments.

Prints of the Matildas huddled in an unintentional love heart post-semifinal now decorate walls.

Sitting in people's wardrobes are their first Matildas kits. Hats and beanies and ribbons now adorn heads.

New pets end up with names like Sam Purr and Steph Cat-ley and Ellie Bark-enter.

Our Instagram stories and TikTok feeds and phone galleries have shaky vision of pitches and TVs underscored by garbled noises of celebration as we attempted to capture the moment and prove we were there; we saw it, we lived it.

It's been an incredible 12 months, but the next game and tournament and problem are just around the corner because football is a never-ending pursuit; it's exciting, but sometimes there is a pang of yearning, of wanting to go back.

It's OK to still miss the World Cup and the Matildas' run, and everything that surrounded it; living through an historic moment that will be spoken about in 10, 20, 50 years time will have that affect on you.

Of course, not all of it will be missed. Kerr's calf could have stayed healthy. Nigeria could have missed a few shots. Ditto England and Sweden.

But Steph Catley's penalty against Republic of Ireland lives long in the memory. So, too, the image of her teammates streaming behind her, arms outstretched, relieved after four years of anticipation being released.

The fear and trepidation turning into equal parts joy and disbelief after defeating Canada still feels like a fever dream. The details that felt so important at the time, the VAR calls and offsides and perceived slights from the referee, fade so that only the good stuff remains.

But the time many would go back to if given the chance is that stretch between Aug. 12 and Aug. 16.

Remember it?

From the start of the quarterfinal to Lauren Hemp's 71st-minute goal in the semi, there were no thoughts around the country but the Matildas.

Maybe you remember streaming down Caxton Street in the winter sun, a sea of Australia jerseys floating down to Brisbane Stadium, stopping by the pregame pub to say hello to your mates and getting all of that nervous anticipation out with a hug and a joke. Maybe you remember rugging up on your way to one of the live sites or snuggled in front of the television. Maybe all you could do was catch glimpses of vision and scorelines on your phone.

The game's slow march towards penalties felt like an inevitability.

If you close your eyes, you can still hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of Fowler's thumping penalty hitting the back of the net, a sound that could be heard from the upper levels of the stadium.

The legend of Mackenzie Arnold grew during this game, and the image of her with arms raised above her head after getting confirmation that she'd legally saved Kenza Dali's second penalty is a fitting snapshot.

People who had never watched a game in their life yelled at their TVs and laptops and phones as Cortnee Vine sent Australia to their first World Cup semifinal and declared her their first favourite soccer player.

"Cue the party."

It's a phrase that might be enough to put you exactly where you were when Vine scored.

Maybe you need the flutes of Luude's remix of Down Under to get you there or maybe it's Ellie Carpenter's face running the gamut of emotions in the space of seconds.

In the hours that followed, we all shared feverishly where we were when we witnessed history.

Maybe it was Federation Square or one of the live sites, big and small, dotted around the country. Maybe it was a lounge room or pub or gig or clubhouse or function room. Maybe it was just you, holding your phone, riding every moment.

No matter where it was, a little piece of us still lives there.

There was barely time to process it all because a World Cup semifinal was only days away.

Buoyed by the glow of the penalty shootout and into the unprecedented territory of a World Cup semifinal, the rest of the world faded until Australia was nothing but a blur of greens and golds.

How could anything else be focused on when we were all living in an historic moment?

The Tillies were inescapable. "Go Matildas" signs welcomed you at airports, newspapers changed their names to Matildas-themed puns; when you walked down the street in any city across the country, someone, somewhere, was wearing green, gold, or teal. The scramble for tickets was mad.

People made their way to Stadium Australia once again, donning lucky socks and undies and tops, ready to go, a World Cup final potentially 90 minutes away.

We watched Kerr get the ball just past the halfway line and make a beeline towards goal, unleashing a shot that made us gasp before exploding into raptures.

Her equaliser gave Australia hope. The dream was still alive. The World Cup final was visible, totally and utterly within reach for eight glorious minutes.

We all know how the story ends, but those five days were magic.

Why did it all feel so big? Why did people who had never cared about football suddenly find themselves moving their plans to make sure they were in front of the TV to watch this team? Why does it still feel so hard to move on?

This World Cup didn't only exist on screens and in newspapers. When you stepped outside, it was right there. It was physical and tangible, you were enveloped in it.

You didn't need to know football to understand either. And the Matildas made it so easy to get behind them.

We lived it together. In every setting, we watched together. We experienced joy together. We were connected in a way so far removed from the disconnection we've faced over the last few years.

We embraced in the stands, and the bowels of stadiums, and the live sites, showered each other with affection, slack jawed and in disbelief at what we were witnessing.

It makes sense that many of us are still processing what we saw, unable to fully move on just yet.

So we'll keep processing and reminiscing. Our phones and TikTok feeds and friends will remind us of this magical time.

The clock will strike midnight in a few short days and we will welcome 2024.

We'll start looking forward to the next time we get to see the Tillies play. We'll look forward to that Olympic qualifier, hopefully to an Olympics, and dream of medals, preferably gold, come August.

We'll keep working towards keeping this glow alive, making things better and easier for the next generation of Matildas. We'll keep showing up for the A-League Women, which is enjoying its best average crowd attendances in six seasons.

But even as we press forward, it's OK to still be in Sydney, watching the Matildas soar like birds in formation, streaming behind Catley.

It's OK to still be in Melbourne in disbelief like Hayley Raso at the first of four goals against the reigning Olympic champions.

It's OK to still be within touching distance of the World Cup final, laughing incredulously at Kerr's best and only goal this tournament.

And it's OK to still be in Brisbane, chewed fingernails and all.

Cue the party!