SYDNEY — Patty Mills and his Boomers teammates knew who deserved prime time billing, so they rescheduled their game and will keep watching Australia’s historic run at the Women’s World Cup.
It’s fair to say Matildas fervor has reached fever-pitch across Australia, which is co-hosting the tournament with New Zealand.
The Boomers, Australia’s men’s basketball team, are preparing for their World Cup later this month and had a warmup game against Brazil planned for Wednesday night. As soon as they realized it would clash with the Matildas’ semifinal against England, they moved their game forward by more than two hours so they could watch the women’s soccer.
“The Matildas have really captured the nation this World Cup,” Mills, the Boomers captain and Atlanta Hawks guard, said Monday. “The way the ladies play with so much heart and passion has been so inspiring to witness.
“Just like the rest of the country, our Boomers team have been locked in for each game, watching it as a team.”
They’re not the only ones.
Times for elite-level Australian rules football matches were adjusted last Saturday so players, staff and supporters could catch some of the Matildas’ dramatic penalty shootout win over fifth-ranked France in the quarterfinals in Brisbane.
The main nightly news program was pushed back by the host broadcaster nationally because of the game, which became the highest-rating program on Australian TV this year.
“Supporting our fellow Australian athletes is crucial, so moving our game was an easy decision,” Mills said. “We are super excited to join the rest of Australia in watching the ladies on Wednesday after we play our second game in Melbourne. Up the Tillies!”
It seems almost everyone in Australia wants to watch the Matildas, either on TV, or in dedicated fan zones in the host cities that have attracted tens of thousands of people, or in pubs and clubs from the state capitals to tiny Outback communities.
Australia’s round of 16 win over Denmark had the highest-rating television audience in Australia in 2023 — for all of five days.
The quarterfinal win last weekend drew almost 5 million viewers for the free-to-air TV rightsholder, excluding public screenings and paid streaming. That’s the most for a sports event since Lleyton Hewitt reached the final of the Australian Open tennis championship in 2005, and more than the grand finals in Australia’s dominant football codes, Aussie rules and rugby league, in 20 years.
Politicians in the country of 26 million have been clambering to join the bandwagon, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last month suggesting a national public holiday should the Matildas win the title.
It’s an idea now looking far more plausible with the home team potentially two wins away from what looked like an unlikely triumph earlier in the tournament. It’s an extraordinary development considering some of the Matildas have played games with crowds of fewer than 500.
The anticipation and excitement is spreading in the South Pacific.
Star striker Mary Fowler, who is fast developing a cult-like status among Australian fans, has been dubbed ‘the pride of Papua New Guinea’ and her mother’s village of Kira Kira has united in supporting Mary and her teammates.
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup