Friendly game in Winnipeg is part of a trip of a lifetime for young soccer players from Australia


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On the surface, it looked like any other soccer game between teenage girls.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/06/2015 (2851 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On the surface, it looked like any other soccer game between teenage girls.

If you were to have stopped by the Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex Wednesday night, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary: tight battles for the ball on the pitch, coaches on the sideline screaming directions with every pass and parents in the stands providing support while gripping the edge of their seats.

In fact, there was something extraordinary about a game in which they didn’t even keep score.

On one side a local club, the U14 Bonivital Flames dressed in bright red.

The other, a slightly older and more talented group just three days into the trip of lifetime that began in Winnipeg Sunday night after a 27-hour flight from Australia.

The visitors, an elite group of 16 girls aged 13 to 16 from Canberra and Sydney, are in Winnipeg following the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the next two weeks, cheering on their home country while also taking part in exhibition games along the way, starting with Wednesday’s tilt against the Flames.

Led by coach Rae Dower, a recently retired police officer who spent the last 20 years tackling drug busts, prostitution and murder as a member of the major crimes unit, together they’ll spend the next 10 days travelling from Winnipeg to Edmonton and finally to Vancouver playing and watching the game they love.

“Those lifelong experiences, those lifelong memories; they’ll take that away for the rest of their days,” said Dower when asked what she hopes her girls will get out of the trip.

As for their recent days, the team has seen and done so much in a city they knew little about just last week. They’ve already seen two World Cup games at Investors Group Field, which included watching their fellow Aussies fall 3-1 to the Americans. Making it even more special was the girls were invited to watch the Matildas practise Wednesday morning, ending with an exclusive meet-and-greet that included snapping photos with their favourite players.

“It was just such a great experience for everyone,” said 16-year-old striker Nickoletta Flannery. “It inspires me to proceed in my career path, to keep playing and training hard because at the end of the day that’s all the Matildas did to get there. We’re just so excited to watch them play and support them.”

This is the third time Dower has taken a team to the Women’s World Cup.

She went to China in 2007 and Germany in 2011. To suggest it’s old hat by now would be misguided. The two other times she took an older group. This time, her heart is set on growing the game for girls at an earlier age.

“It’s about getting that addiction to football at a young age, and then it’s really hard to leave,” she said.

In many ways, Canada is just like Australia when it comes to soccer; a constant struggle to grow a game that will always play second, or third fiddle.

In Canada, it’s hockey and football. Down Under, soccer competes with rugby and cricket.

But Dower credits Canada as leaders in growing the women’s game, especially since the start of the World Cup where advertisements and profiles of the Canadian team can be seen all over TV and around the city.

“The more you put it out there, the more you engage those young ones at an early age, the better chance they’ll stick with it for life,” said Dower.

Life has never been better or busier for the visiting Aussies. They have two more exhibition games in Winnipeg before they head to Edmonton Sunday night.

They’re scheduled to take on FC Northwest U16 today at 6 p.m. at Shaughnessy Park and the Bonivital Flames U16 team at Waverley Soccer Complex on Saturday at 6:30.

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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