More than 20,000 fans booked costly trips down under for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup co-hosted in New Zealand and Australia – all with the hopes of seeing their nation rise to the occasion to go as deep into the tournament as their holiday was booked for.
Locals have experienced diversity, excitement and strong accents across the host cities as tourists flooded the streets celebrating the major event.
Of the 193,000 tickets sold to Auckland matches, 20 per cent of sales were international visitors - and 12 per cent were purchased by United States travellers alone.
Americans have been the largest flock of tourists – understandably with the history of their national team and how they were projected to perform at this year’s World Cup.
However, on Monday, any ideas of a possible three-peat were squashed when the US was defeated in the round of 16 - via penalty shootout - by Sweden.
As world media critiqued the four-time champion team, American travellers took to social media “absolutely gutted”, though have confirmed they will still proceed with existing travel – that followed the path the world No 1 would have followed – despite their absence.
Fans say their travel plans will “remain unchanged” and have been worth the money for the “adventure and soccer community” despite costing some tens of thousands to follow a team that only lasted four matches.
Efrain Mercado and his daughter Madison booked their adventure around the US specifically. They travelled to New Zealand from Northern California, then back and forth across the Tasman for the knockout rounds – doing so through to the final in Sydney.
This is the third World Cup Mercado and his 18-year-old daughter have attended, telling the Herald they want to “keep the adventure going” despite the US losing, as they’ve enjoyed plenty of other games including the opening match between New Zealand and Norway.
Another said they’re “Absolutely staying! I’m excited to see three more games in Sydney. It’s been the best World Cup I’ve been to so far (this is my third). Bummed about the US but there are still exciting games coming up.
“[I’ve] been planning this trip since they won the bid three years ago. Dreamed of coming here ever since I can remember and the World Cup was an added bonus and motivation. Tournament play is brilliant and tragic by nature. Stoked for remaining teams and matches and continuing to explore NZ, and then Sydney.”
Corran Stephen, who hasn’t even left America yet, said she and her partner still plan to head down under despite her favourite team’s shock defeat.
“Although we are devastated by the USWNT’s early exit, our plan to make it to the final game has always been driven by our love of the game and our unwavering support of women’s soccer.
“We are so proud of our team and everything they have accomplished both on and off the pitch, and we know that without the success of the USWNT international women’s soccer wouldn’t be what it is today.
“Regardless of which teams make it to the final, we are so excited to be able to experience the joy of the game and appreciate the massive strides women’s soccer has made,” said Stephen.
Who American fans are backing to lift the trophy now?
Mercado is backing England – “I love how they play and a lot of their players play for my favourite club team, Chelsea FC.”
Karen McCann agreed saying England is a very talented team that has never won it. “Sweden and Japan have won before – we need a new winner”.
Katie Sherman who is travelling from the States to Australia for the final said she would “love to see Australia win it”.
Stephen from Portland, Oregon – the home of the National Women’s Soccer League team, Portland Thorns – is backing Australia. “Five of the players are former Portland Thorns players,” she explains.
Another said, “Solidly, Japan! Mostly because my family is part-Japanese and my son is completely obsessed with Miyazawa [the tournament’s leading goal scorer].”
There are also those backing the Dutch. “That team is a class act! They amazed me at the 2019 final. That gutsy goalie, the Orange Army... My goodness, they brought a classical brass ensemble to the stadium!
“I’m not talking vuvuzelas, I’m talking French horns and trombones. I am so impressed with their passion and positive approach.”