THE likelihood of a 26,000-strong sellout crowd for tonight's McDonald Jones Stadium clash between the Matildas and the United States is more than a sign of the strength of the women's game in this country.
It's another triumph for women's sport, as the barriers come down on a full field of pursuits once considered too confrontational, too violent - too "difficult", even - for women to play, let alone professionally.
In one sense, the advances in women's professional sport mirror corresponding changes in wider society.
Yes, some sports - golf, tennis, athletics and swimming, in particular - can point to long histories of female participation at the professional and elite amateur level.
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But even here, the bulk of the attention, and money, went to the men.
This meant nominally "professional" sportswomen having to support themselves through other work, which cuts into training time and contributes to the "quality gap" that critics of women's professional sport use as ammunition to say women's sport is not "as good" as the male version.
A vicious circle arises.
Without proper support, women's sport cannot approach its apogee.
Sponsors backing a particular team or sport want "bums on seats" or "eyes on screens" to justify their spending.
But it's only with such funding that women athletes can devote the time to take their performances to the "next level" needed to attract a big enough audience to retain the advertisers.
In Perth on Saturday night, more than 15,500 people turned out for the final of the Women's Big Bash League cricket tournament.
It has taken seven seasons, but the WBBL has become one of the success stories in the broader evolution of cricket, away from its old world of elitist, white, male chauvinism.
The other big "ball" sports in Australia - rugby league, Australian Rules and rugby union - have also recognised the power of diversity by launching women's competitions.
This year, the Newcastle Knights will be one of six clubs in an expanded NRLW competition, which is coming into its fourth season.
Across the sporting spectrum, today's champions will inspire a new generation of girls, who know that they, like the boys, have a shot at the big time.
Who knows how many future Matildas might find that tonight's game lights the fires of their inspiration?
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