Women’s World Cup a hit in the Holy Land as final takes center stage

Aug 16, 2023 | Football

On Sunday (13:00 IDT / 6:00 EDT), Spain will take on England in the final of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Stadium Australia in Sydney. Although female athletes often play second-fiddle to their male counterparts, this year’s competition – the ninth edition of the quadrennial tournament – has shown people around the world how competitive and entertaining women’s soccer is at the top level.

For Australia, who is hosting the tournament together with New Zealand, the Matildas – the name of the Australian women’s soccer team – have unified the whole country over the last few weeks. Lead by captain Sam Kerr, who is widely regarded as one of the best female soccer players in the world, the team exceeded the expectations of many by making the semifinals. Although they lost to England 1-3 in the semifinals and then lost the third-place game to Sweden 0-2 on Saturday night, they captured the hearts of their nation with their performance on home soil.

This has been evident on many fronts. In terms of attendance, more than 50,000 people were at the Matildas’ final exhibition game in preparation for the tournament against France at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium. There were close to sell-out crowds throughout the tournament for their games, with Australians at home choosing to watch the Matildas group games over the men’s cricket matches against England in The Ashes (arguably the most important competition in Australia’s most-popular summer sport) and an estimated 11.15 million people – a little less than half of the total population – watched the semifinal against England. Even politicians were vocal in their support the Matildas, with Minister of Defense Richard Marles jokingly appointing Matildas’ goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold, as the Minister of Defense for the semifinal against the England Lionesses.

The Matildas’ popularity wasn’t only on show in Australia. In Israel, the Australian Embassy, together with the ZAZA Women’s Sports Community, hosted two events to watch the Matildas play live on a big screen in Tel Aviv: first, the opening game against Ireland at Mezizim Breach, an event which was also attended by MK Merav Michaeli; then, Wednesday’s semifinal against England at Mike’s Place, an event which was hosted together with the UK Embassy and Athena Israel.

“This event is the second that we’ve done this World Cup and this is actually the second World Cup for which we’ve had events,” Adi Sheri, CEO of ZAZA, said on Wednesday. “We started four years ago with the 2019 World Cup, we understood that women’s sport needs to become a legitimate product in the world of soccer, which is very popular, to get more coverage.”

While there are world class women’s sports events which are held much closer to Israel – including the 2023 Women’s EuroBasket which held half of the group games in Tel Aviv – they unfortunately do not enjoy the popularity of men’s competitions. The EuroBasket alone managed to fill up close to all of the 2,000-seat Shlomo Group Arena for Israel’s games, however the other games were lucky if there were 100 fans in the crowd.

This makes the World Cup viewings even more impressive. On Wednesday, around 200 people were in attendance at a packed Mike’s Place, which is even more notable given that it was held in the middle of a workday.

“The people who came here today are people who are actively overcoming the difference in hours because this World Cup is very difficult, it’s in a country very far from here,” Sheri said. “People who are here are showing that women’s sport needs to be something that people need like every other field. Women’s soccer for some time has been on the map around the world, it’s already proven this. Now all that remains is to bring that culture to Israel.”

With the Israeli Women’s Soccer Premier League season beginning at the end of August, perhaps the popularity of this World Cup can continue into the upcoming season.

“The topic of building, of community, around the topic of Women’s soccer in Israel is difficult and complicated,” Sheri said. “I really hope that the bodies responsible for it make decisions and take on this path. The future is here, we just need to stretch out our hand to get to it.”

All that’s left of the World Cup until it becomes a memory is the final. So who will win on Sunday?

“I joked with some friends earlier that I have a preference for England to win because I was at the final at Wembley last year,” Sheri said. “Tactically, you see that they are doing the work on the field, I really enjoying watching them play. So I think that the English are better than the Spanish this year.”

The 2023 World Cup Final can be seen live on Sport1 in Israel. In the United States, it’s airing on FOX, FS1, FOXSports.com and the FOX Sports App.

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