Australia is a three-time OFC champion, one-time AFC champion and one-time AFF champion. The team has represented Australia at the FIFA Women's World Cup on five occasions and at the Olympics Games on two, although has won neither tournament. Immediately following the 2015 World Cup, Australia was ranked ninth in the world by FIFA.
The Australian Women's Soccer Association (AWSA) was founded in 1974 and a representative Australian team competed at the following year's Asian Women's Championship. A national team made up primarily of players from New South Wales and Western Australia was sent to the 1978 inaugural World Women's Invitational Tournament, in Taipei, Taiwan. Australia played against club teams at the tournament and none of the players' appearances counted as official caps.Coached by Jim Selby, the selected players were: Sandra Brentnall (WA), Connie Byrnes (captain, NSW), Julie Clayton (WA), Kim Coates (NSW), Julie Dolan (NSW), Cindy Heydon (NSW), Barbara Kozak (WA), Sharon Loveless (WA), Toni McMahon (NSW), Sue Monteath (QLD), Sharon Pearson (NSW), Judy Pettitt (WA), Anna Senjuschenko (WA), Teresa Varadi (WA), Leigh Wardell (NSW) and Monika Werner (VIC).
Australia's first official international match was against New Zealand at Seymour Shaw Park, Miranda, New South Wales, Australia on Saturday 6 October 1979, as it was billed as the "1st Australian Women's International Soccer Test". The Australian team listed in the match programme was Sue Monteith (Qld), Shona Bass (Vic), Kim Coates (Vic), Dianna Hall (SA), Carla Grims (SA), Fiana McKenzie (SA), Sandra Brentnall (WA), Judith Pettit (WA), Sharon Mateljan (WA), Julie Clayton (WA), Cindy Heydon (NSW), Julie Dolan (NSW), Toni McMahon (NSW), Jamie Rosman (NSW), Rosie van Bruinessen (NSW) and Leigh Wardell (NSW). Jim Selby remained as coach and the managers were Noelene Stanley and Elaine Watson. A lack of resources meant Australia's first eight official matches were all against New Zealand.
Australia played in the first Oceania Cup in 1983 at New Caledonia, losing the final to New Zealand in extra time. It was the first time the Australians faced a team other than the "Football Ferns" of New Zealand. A team would not be assembled again until the next edition of the tournament in 1986 tournament in New Zealand, which featured Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, as well as New Zealand's B team. Australia lost in the final again, beaten 4–1 by Taiwan.
Between 1991 and 1994, the Matildas played internationally during a tour of Russia in 1994. The Oceania tournament in 1995 again doubled as World Cup qualifiers in the same round-robin format. Again, Australia finished even with New Zealand on points but this time had a superior goal difference, and qualified for their first FIFA Women's World Cup.
Before 1995, the nickname for the women's team was just "Female Socceroos", derivative of the male squad. Thus in 1995 the Australian Women's Soccer Association joined with Special Broadcasting Service to broadcast a naming competition for the female team. Out of five names, the popular vote chose "Matildas", from the song "Waltzing Matilda". The players themselves did not approve of the name, and took years to use the moniker to describe the team.
The Matildas would assert their Continental strength at the 1998 Oceania Cup, which doubled as a World Cup qualifying tournament. Australia thrashed their Pacific island opposition in their group games and semi-final, before defeating hosts New Zealand in the final 3–1 (the only goal conceded for the tournament), and qualifying for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup in USA. At the tournament, Australia was grouped with Sweden, China and Ghana. In their opening match, they secured their first non-loss in a World Cup match with a 1–1 draw against the Ghanaians. Their following group matches were both 3–1 losses, finishing third in the group, but showing improvement on previous tournaments.
Australia still did not have much attention and respect, with the Matildas forced to train with second-hand equipment from the Socceroos, not getting paid and with few games to play. To promote themselves and raise funds for the team, in 1999 the Matildas posed nude for a calendar, which sold over 40,000 units.
The profile built for the sport carried into 2000, where the Matildas had a guaranteed spot for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. While in January a friendly match against the Czech Republic in Melbourne's Bob Jane Stadium attracted only 1,500 spectators, a crowd of 10,000 came to the Matildas' game against China at the Sydney Football Stadium in June. Much anticipation surrounded the team's Olympic performance on home soil, but a 3–0 loss to Germany in their opening game brought those hopes down. A draw with Sweden and a final loss to Brazil ended their tournament in the first round. While the on-field performance was disappointing, attendances at matches were high for women's soccer in Australia, raising the profile of the game.
The team were the host nation for an annual invitational tournament called the Australia Cup, from 1999 to 2004 inclusive, winning it twice.
Following the Olympics, many problems halted the Matildas' schedules. As Ernie Merrick backed out on his intentions to coach the team, Adrian Santrac only took over as manager in November, and Australia played no games in 2001. The following year the team argued over the calendar proceeds with the promoter, and AWSA went defunct, being absorbed by Soccer Australia (current Football Federation Australia). In-between, many players opted to retire from the national team.
In 2006, Australia moved from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation, and the country was given hosting rights to the AFC Women's Asian Cup that same year. The opening game for the Matildas was against South Korea. An early own goal by South Korea put the Matilda's up, finishing with 3 goals in the second half to give them a 4–0 win. The second match against Myanmar was also a win to the Matildas, who finished with 2 goals, with Sally Shipard and Lisa De Vanna scoring one a piece. The Matildas went on to reach the final, being defeated 4–2 on penalties by China after having a two-goal half time lead.
Australia qualified for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup and drawn into Group C. They defeated Ghana 4–1 on 12 September in Hangzhou, followed by a 1–1 draw against Norway at the same venue on 15 September. Thanks to a late goal from Cheryl Salisbury, they drew against Canada 2–2 on 20 September in Chengdu to advance to the knockout round for the first time in team history. Australia came up against Brazil in their elimination match, losing to Brazil 3–2 to end their 2007 World Cup run at the quarter-final stage.
In 2008, the Matildas competed in the 2008 AFC Women's Asian Cup. They were drawn in Group B, placing second in the group with relative ease behind Japan, who they would eventually face in the third place playoff. With the Matildas progressing from the group stage to the semi-finals, they were paired up against Korea DPR. Korea DPR won the match 3–0 and went on to win the tournament. This led them on to the third place playoff, facing Japan for a second time in the tournament and lgain losing, leaving the Matildas in fourth place.
In 2010 the Matildas qualified for the 2010 AFC Women's Asian Cup in China. They beat Vietnam (2-0) and South Korea (3-1) before losing to China 1-0 which made them advance in second place and advance to the Semi Finals where they beat Japan 1-0. The final which was played in wet conditions was history making itself with it being the first senior soccer team (men or women) to make a final in the AFC. They created more history by being the first ever Australian soccer team to win in Asia after beating at the finals the team of Korea DPR in penalties, 5-4, after a regular time score of 1-1 (Australia's goal being scored by Samantha Kerr). The title gave the Matildas a berth at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
The following year the team contested the World Cup, being sorted into Group D. Despite losing 1-0 to Brazil in the opening game, victories of 3-2 and 2-1 over Equatorial Guinea and Norway respectively qualified the Matildas to the quarterfinals. At the knockout stage, the team lost 3-1 to Sweden. Caitlin Foord was awarded Best Young Player of the tournament, and defender Elise Kellond-Knight was chosen for the All-Star Team.
During the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, they became the first Australian team, men's or women's, to win a knockout stage match at a World Cup when they defeated Brazil by a score of 1-0. The goal was scored by Kyah Simon after a shot by Lisa de Vanna was blocked and redirected by goalkeeper Luciana. In the quarterfinals, the Matildas lost to defending champions Japan in a late goal by Mana Iwabuchi.