The transformation of Matildas goaltender Mackenzie Arnold

This is the last Group B match of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Australia are in a must-win game against Olympic champions Canada and, with the tournament co-hosts in the lead, the momentum is slowly starting to shift in favor of the North Americans.

Canadian flier Deanne Rose prepares to take a photo. All she has to do is get the ball past Matildas goalie Mackenzie Arnold and the game will be in the balance once again. His shot is low, aiming for the corner of the far post. But Arnold makes the save, unconventional with his feet, and Australia maintains a clean sheet.

It was a small moment, especially in what was to be a resounding 4-0 win for the Matildas, but it says a lot about Arnold’s growth as a goalkeeper. This time last year, the West Ham United goalkeeper was widely regarded as one of Australia’s top three goalkeepers – but few had named her the Matildas’ No.1.

In a way, Arnold had made his career in the national team by being the substitute. She had participated in two World Cups, two Olympic Games and two Asian Cups. In these three tournaments, she made no appearance, one appearance and three appearances respectively. For some reason, Arnold was always a good player, but couldn’t translate her club form to the national team.

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Everything changed at the start of 2023 when she started every Nations Cup game and was subsequently named Player of the Tournament. Subsequently, Arnold started for Australia in friendlies against Scotland and England, keeping a clean sheet against the reigning European champions. Suddenly, with a home World Cup approaching, there had been a seismic change in the ranks of the Matildas. The Gold Coast-born keeper acknowledged the change when asked about her selection.

“It’s more the position I’m in the team now, compared to the last announcement – I think it was kind of a lot more real,” Arnold told the media the day she was announced. confirmed in Australia’s 23-man World Cup squad. .

“Before, I thought: ‘You’re going to be the third goalkeeper, you won’t play.

“But this time it was a little different.”

What had changed? How did Arnold go from good enough to be selected to good enough to start? The answer, according to longtime teammate and centre-back Clare Polkinghorne, was simple.

“Macca is in the shape of her career, and I think she believes in herself and has confidence in herself – which we all had in her, but she was probably lacking in herself,” Polkinghorne said.

Building self-confidence is easier said than done. And that looks like an even tougher task for a goalkeeper whose high points on the pitch are legendary and whose low points are amplified to an extremely large size.

Ahead of the tournament, Arnold, with a few months of national team football behind her, spoke openly about the changes she has made and how they have fueled this transformation.

“I would say before that I would dwell on [mistakes]of course,” she admitted. “Being in the position I was in, I was so worried that I was going to give the coach or my teammates a reason to say, ‘That’s why we don’t play you”, if that makes sense.”

For anyone who has ever had to doubt themselves, this makes perfect sense. But the worried Arnold’s move to give herself a break was one she had to make on her own and for herself – although West Ham played a part in the change.

Arnold explained that before, during matches, the fear of making a mistake hung over her like a cloud. She was harshly critical of her own decision-making and choices and was like, “Oh shit, what did I do?

“And then I would look back on it and think it wasn’t even that bad. So I think doing that really helped me let go of those mistakes and maybe just look back and kind of m ‘dwell on it then. But it certainly took a bit of work.’

Change seems simple, but it’s a change that had to come from within and that’s what makes it difficult. Arnold already had the support and belief of her teammates and coaches continually picked her because she was good enough.

“I think moving my form from West Ham to the national team was probably the most important thing for me because for some reason I could still play at club level, but I never brought it to Matildas. “, said Arnold. “So once I started doing that, and everything started to fall into place, I think that put me in the mindset that I needed to be in during of the last 15 years.

“Now I feel good. I feel confident.”

The change has been evident during this World Cup campaign. Before Rose’s incredible save, there was a miscommunication between Arnold and Alanna Kennedy which led to an Asisat Oshoala goal in Australia’s 3-2 loss to Nigeria.

A young Arnold might have been consumed by error, letting the fear of error and its ramifications keep her from playing her game. Now she is able to look at error, to get what she needs out of it. and move on, without fear of being knocked off the pedestal.

Heading into Monday’s round of 16 encounter with Denmark, Arnold is the undisputed No. 1 for the Matildas and has backed that up with two tournament clean sheets and a string of brilliant saves. Her profile has risen thanks to the constant playing time and she faces the prospect of being a role model for the first time in her career.

“To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really looked at myself as, ‘You’re a role model,'” Arnold explained. “Even thinking about the stuff I post [on social media]I never really think about it properly… but you have so many eyes on you.

“Even seeing Arnold’s shirts in the stands, it’s probably something I’m not really used to as well coming from previous years when I haven’t really been a main player. So that was cool.

“Just being a little more noticed in the shops and stuff, which is probably what every girl is used to. have on this young generation.”

While she doesn’t deliberately use this influence, Arnold has already had an impact just by sharing her life, including her recent decision to finally get hearing aids. But, overall, Arnold is enjoying the moment and embracing the experience that was beyond his wildest dreams.

“I didn’t even really know what to expect coming into this World Cup on home soil,” she said. “And it’s just unreal, I can’t even put it into words, especially like the feelings I get when the girls score is something I honestly can’t even put into words.

“It’s something I never imagined. And I remember being asked what I expected before the World Cup. And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, a great crowd, family and friends, whatever.

“But looking back now, I could never have said what happened. It’s unreal.”

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