‘World Cup a dream come true,’ says Greek rising star Sofia Sakalis

The Melbourne City midfielder points out the significance on holding the tournament on home ground both for female players and for the sport itself

Last week’s announcement by FIFA President Gianni Infantino regarding the host nation(s) of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has been met with excitement across the nation.

Many young talented athletes now have something to work towards, as the planet’s greatest competition will be held literally a few blocks away from home.

Among them is Melbourne City’s Greek-Aussie Sofia Sakalis. The 17-year-old, who has already been playing at the club for four years and signed a professional contract a couple of years ago, spoke to Neos Kosmos about her thoughts regarding the announcement and what it could mean for the host nation(s) and the future of the sport in the country.

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Australia will be hosting the FIFA WWC 2023. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s massive for Australia, not just for Australia but for women’s football as well. Being a young female footballer as well, it’s been great. It’s been a dream of mine to play in world cup from a young age and to have it in our backyard is a dream come true. I’m going to be turning 18 soon and it’s going to be something that I’ll be working towards in the next three years as I’ve already been a part of the young Matildas and it’ll be the next step and my next goal, so I’ll definitely be working harder for that.

Do you think it’ll increase interest by young female athletes such as yourself towards the sport?

Absolutely! We’re going to have the world cup in our backyard so that’s going to be amazing. I think a lot of young footballers will also want to come and watch and even younger girls who might not be interested or might not know what sport they want to join. So it’ll attract a lot of younger girls and it might ignite their passion for soccer which would be amazing and would help grow female participation in Australia even further.

Apart from participation, considering football is the most popular sport going by numbers, do you think the world cup might also help attract crowds back into the stadiums?

Yes, I definitely think that the tournament will attract a lot of people, not only those who are interested in soccer or have a passion for soccer, but even from other sports considering it’s a world cup, a massive tournament that anyone would love to come and watch. So they’ll definitely increase, not just participation but also crowds, making the sport more popular as a lot more people will want to come and watch soccer games and even A-League games, W-League games in the future after the world cup.

The 17-year-old remains confident that the World Cup will not help improve the sport’s image in the country, but will also help attract foreign players to the W-League. Photo: Supplied

Do you think this competition will also help improve the sport’s image in the country?

Yeah, for sure. I mean there’s three years until the world cup kicks off so I imagine there’ll be a lot of build up through advertisements and the sort and people will be aware of it. There’ll be a good atmosphere I think also so it’ll be a great experience for all Australians.

What about you personally, not just about Matildas but on a club level? Tell us a little bit about your career.

I was just at Melbourne City now for the W-League season. I’ve been there since I was 13 years old so I trained on for two years then I got a professional contract when I was 15 years old and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been an amazing experience being at a club like Melbourne City, they’ve got amazing facilities and their team is great. They’ve even got so many Matildas like Steph Catley and Kyah Simon so it’s great to learn from players like that. Learning from them as well is another thing that’s got me passionate for the world cup, having players like that around me and helping me develop as a player.

What about the recent transfers of Australian players to many great European clubs, such as Sam Kerr to Chelsea, Caitlyn Foord to Arsenal and more recently Ellie Carpenter to Olympique Lyonnais? Does that give you something to aspire to considering they’re getting a chance to play abroad in the big leagues?

I think it’s amazing that so many Matildas are going to Europe and that’s also another dream of mine to play there some day but I also believe that through the world cup, we’ll be able to attract many of the great players to come and play in our own W-League as well. So that would be great as well.

If you had the chance to play in any club in the world, which would that be?

Oh, that’s a difficult question… Probably Manchester City, obviously because they belong to the same group as Melbourne City, but also because it would be an amazing experience to play in England, they’ve got a great league, a great set-up there so it would be amazing.