It’s one of the great international rivalries in women’s football.
- The Matildas face Brazil in two friendly matches in Sydney, on October 23 and 26
- They’ve shared a fierce, 20-year rivalry, which started at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
- Australia won their last match against Brazil, which was in 2019
Over the past two decades, Australia and Brazil have faced each other repeatedly — as though it were pre-destined — at some of the game’s biggest tournaments, trading blows at various Olympic Games and Women’s World Cups.
While the two nations first met at the FIFA Women’s Invitational Tournament in 1988 (where Australia won 1-0), their official tournament rivalry began on home soil when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics.
Bundled together in Group E, both sides needed to win their final group game against each other to advance to the final four.
Australia took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute through striker Sunni Hughes, who channelled Brazil’s characteristic flair as she juggled her way through the opposition defenders and rocketed the ball into the far corner.
But Brazil, one of the heavyweights of women’s football at the time, clawed back two goals in the space of eight minutes to go through to the semi-finals.
Four years later, at the Athens Games, the Matildas would suffer another heartbreak thanks to an 18-year-old Marta Vieira da Silva, who would go on to become one of the world’s best and most decorated players.
Brazil won their first Olympic silver for women’s football that year, losing 2-1 in the final against the USA.
Marta, alongside strike partner Cristiane Rozeira de Souza Silva and midfield anchor Miraildes Maciel Mota (aka Formiga), soon formed a deadly triumvirate that would help Brazil defeat Australia at both the 2007 and 2011 Women’s World Cups, a period when the South Americans were, arguably, at their peak.
After that first official meeting in 2000, it would be 15 long, aching years before the Matildas recorded their first tournament win over their rivals.
The breakthrough came during the round of 16 at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, with the game’s only goal poked home in the dying stages by Australian striker Kyah Simon.
It was one of the shocks of the tournament. The plucky underdogs sending one of the favourites packing, with the Matildas winning their first World Cup knock-out match to boot.
This was the moment when things began to change for the Australian women’s national team.
Despite winning the country’s first Asian Cup in 2010, the Matildas’ win over Brazil in 2015 marked a turning-point, shooting them up the world rankings and forcing other nations to sit up and take notice.
While Brazil had their revenge at the Rio Olympics the following year, bundling the Matildas out on penalties, the next five years post-Canada saw Australia regularly overpower their traditional rivals, leap-frogging Brazil on the FIFA global table and bringing balance to a once-lopsided narrative.
This period of dominance by the Matildas coincided with the rise of women’s football more generally around the world.
In 2017, a two-game friendly series against Brazil saw a different kind of history made as 16,829 people flocked to Pepper Stadium in Newcastle to record the largest crowd for a Matildas home game (a figure that would be beaten two years later when 20,029 people watched Australia defeat Chile at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium).
Australia swept the series, 5-3 on aggregate, barely a month after demolishing Brazil 6-1 at the inaugural Tournament of Nations.
However, like most sporting rivalries, there is one game that often stands out above the rest between these two sides: It’s the Miracle of Montpellier.
At the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, Australia and Brazil faced each other in Group C. Considering the Matildas’ recent dominance, it was widely assumed they would ease past their stuttering opponents and qualify for the round of 16.
However, Brazil had other ideas.
In a reverse image of their first Olympic meeting, it was Brazil who took the early lead.
Although Australia dominated possession, two crucial moments swung the momentum of the match in Brazil’s favour: A penalty converted by Marta, and a sizzling passing move finished by now-veteran striker Cristiane.
“That’s football,” vice-captain Steph Catley told SBS on the anniversary of the match last year.
As half-time crept ever closer and confidence began to dwindle, Matildas winger Caitlin Foord snatched a late goal back to ensure the game was still alive.
It was a moment that embodied the “never say die” attitude that has come to define this Australian team over the past 20 years.
“The key moment for us was that Caitlin [Foord] scored right before half-time,” Catley said.
“That really gave us back the belief that we had going into that game, that it still wasn’t over.
“Even when we went a couple of goals down, it still felt like we were playing all over them, that we were going to create chances, that we were going to score.”
And they did. On each side of the hour, the Matildas pulled two goals back thanks to a bullet strike by midfielder Chloe Logarzo and an own-goal by Brazilian defender Monica, giving Australia a 3-2 win and safe passage through to the next round.
“The second half was a little bit of a blur,” Catley said.
“Once we went up, it was a team or a way of playing that I hadn’t seen from us before. It was a mature performance in being able to hold them out, because they really came after us once we went up, as you would expect.
“And the way we defended and the way that we organised and the way that we were all communicating to each other and making sure we got the result, it was a maturity that I hadn’t seen in us before. Just to get to the final whistle, it was so exciting.”
The Matildas have not faced Brazil since that memorable match in France, and not on home soil since that historic crowd watched Australia steamroll them in 2017.
But both sides come into this window having transformed themselves from within, appointing new head coaches (Tony Gustavsson for Australia and his former mentor, Pia Sundhage, for Brazil) as well as ushering in a new generation of young talents with the departure of older stars.
This is, then, more than just a two-game friendly series: It will be the latest chapter in the longer story of one of the most gripping rivalries in international women’s football.
Who will write the first word?