SYDNEY -- The Matildas have called on Australia to not "jump off the bandwagon," following their elimination from the World Cup at the hands of England, with the group confident that Australia has shown that it can rightfully be called a "football country" as a result of the tournament.
Australia's quest to secure a momentous home World Cup crown came to an end at the hands of England on Wednesday, the Lionesses' physicality disrupting the hosts' rhythm and attempts to play with speed at Stadium Australia as they eased to a 3-1 win.
For a brief, fleeting moment, Australian fans were able to dream of an improbable victory when a long-range thunderbolt from Sam Kerr restored the game to parity after Ella Toone's opener, but follow-up strikes from England's Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo put paid to any hopes of a fairytale.
It put a dampener on what has been a successful tournament for the Matildas on the field and an even more momentous one off it as the team unitied the country around them in a manner hitherto unseen.
"It's been absolutely incredible to be on home soil for a World Cup," midfielder Katrina Gorry said. "The shift in Australian football has just been incredible. We've loved every minute of it.
"Australia, we love you. I hope we've made you proud. There's still so much to go for. Don't jump off the bandwagon now, keep on coming and I'm sure we'll make you proud."
The success that the Matildas have had in uniting Australia behind them throughout the tournament has sparked debate in the country as to whether it can consider itself a "football nation."
Traditionally, rival codes such as Australian Rules and Rugby League dominate the local sporting scene Down Under, with the local A-League football competitions struggling to garner consistent mainstream attention.
However, across the tournament, the Matildas have set ratings records not seen since Cathy Freemen's gold medal-winning 400m run at the Sydney Olympics, sparking incredible scenes of communal celebration across the country and consistently smashing attendance records.
"The crowds and the fans have proved that [Australia is a football nation], not us," Kerr said. "They're the ones that have come out and supported us and watched us on the big screen, bought our jerseys. I think that's all down to the fans showing that this country really will get behind football if you bring the world game to our country."
"I now truly believe we are a footballing country," added Gorry. "Every nation that's been here, not just us, everyone has felt it. Everyone has seen it. Football in Australia is going to change forever now. I think that's so special to be a part of."
Kerr and Steph Caltey both took the opportunity to call for greater investment in football, particularly women's football, following their elimination, pointing to a need to improve pathways and provide opportunities to youth to keep Australia at the forefront of women's football.
In the short term, though, instead of a momentous final, Australia will instead turn their focus to a third-place playoff against Sweden on Saturday and, slightly further in the future, Olympic qualifiers to be staged in Perth in October.
From there, Paris 2024 potentially looms, as does further opportunities to cement a legacy for women's sport in Australia.
"We spoke about that a lot coming into the tournament: that we wanted to leave a legacy and that we wanted to do something amazing and wake up the public to what we were doing in women's football and I think we've done that," Catley said.
"I think you know, the buzz and the people that have interest and the support that we've had has gone to another level.
"I can't name one game coming to this tournament where I didn't feel emotional looking out on the streets and seeing the people flocking to the games like there was nothing else happening in the world other than our game.
"It's been incredible and game-changing for women's football, women's sport, women in general, I think. It's been very special."