Matildas legend Di Alagich shares with the PFA her experiences of the 2000 Olympics, what it means to be an Olympian and why the current crop of Matildas stars can create history in Rio.

It is dream that athletes around the world share – becoming an Olympian. In 2000 Di Alagich lived her dream when she walked out onto Bruce Stadium for the Matildas’ first ever match at the Olympics. “It was a special moment, I had wanted to be an Olympian since I was a little girl,” she said the moment. “To reach your childhood dream was very special.”

From the moment in 1993 when Sydney was announced as the host, aspiring Matildas across the country knew their chance to become an olympian lay ahead. Alagich was amongst them. “It was years in the making and there was a massive build up. I was a teenager when it was first announced that we would be hosting the Olympics.

“We had a centralised program a few years out and that just increased the anticipation of everything and being on home soil just took it to another level and added to the pressure of not just making the team, but of performing at the Olympics.”

The opening game didn’t go to script – they lost 3-0 to Germany. “We played at Bruce Stadium in Canberra and we had been training for two years in Canberra at the AIS, so all the locals knew us. That increased the expectations and the nerves. We played two days before the opening ceremony so we were hoping to start off well for Australia.”

It would have been easy to wilt under the pressure, but the spirit that has always defined the Matildas would not let this be the case. The next match they drew with Sweden. “It always going to be hard,” said the former midfielder. “I think in the first game you want to come out and get a good result. We had done a lot of work with a sports psychologist and we had a really strong team unit back then and it’s part of being a footballer – bouncing back. We had faith in each other and knew we could come back, and having played Sweden a few times before we knew we could compete with them.”

Their hopes of progressing to the knock-out  stages were extinguished with a hard fought loss to Brazil in the final group game. “It is a weird feeling because you haven’t achieved what you wanted to, but also in a sense you have because you have become an Olympian,” Alagich said of the feeling at the full-time whistle. “I remember after the game I went up to my family and I was in tears and my Dad said ‘have a look around you.’ The crowd was giving us a standing ovation because of how well we had played, even though we had lost. Obviously we all want to win, but sometimes we have to take away the experience, rather than the result.”

Four years later in Greece, the Matildas would make it all the way to the Quarter-finals. For Alagich the experience of the Sydney Olympics was critical in their improvement.

“We had a lot more experience and that helped. The funding increases helped a lot as well. I was playing overseas beforehand and so were a couple of other girls as well, so there was a lot of individual progression and a lot of the girls from 2000 were still around.”

Having recently given birth to her second child and working as a coach in Cairns, Alagich said she was certain the current crop of Matildas stars would be able handle the expectations that had resulted from their outstanding 2015 World Cup and recent Olympic qualification campaign.

“I think they have shown in the qualifiers that they can handle the pressure, so I don’t think that is going to be a problem for them. Even though Lisa (De Vanna) is the only one to have been to an Olympics, there is a lot of experience there from World Cups and a lot of girls playing overseas professionally and that will help as well.”

For Alagich the expectations are a sign of how far the game has come. “It is hard to articulate how far the game has come since 2000.” The challenge for Australian football is to continue to progress. She believes increasing grassroots participation and further growing the W-League is the key.

“When I was a little girl there were hardly any other females playing and now there are thousands playing. I think if we can continue to increase participation levels, than that will help a lot. The processes we have now and the curriculum is much better as well. You need to have a good head coach for the Matildas and we are definitely doing that now and we are on the right track. We need to improve the funding for the W-League and if we continue to do that success will come.”


Hopefully the 2016 Olympics will be just the start.