Aivi Luik caps off a special night for the Matildas

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It isn’t often that a substitute takes centre stage in a match of football. This is especially true when arguably the greatest striker in women’s football scores a brace.

But on Tuesday night, Aivi Luik did just that, shaving her hair in one of Australian football’s most touching moments.

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It was a clinical first 30 minutes by the Matildas as they looked to dominate from the get-go, scoring three times against New Zealand in front of a vocal Canberra crowd of over 13,000.

Katrina Gorry did her quest for a regular Matildas starting spot no harm, whilst Sam Kerr was mere inches away from a well deserved hat-trick.

On the flip side, whilst the result was positive, there are still some questions to be asked about the Matildas. Their letting in of yet another goal against a New Zealand side who struggled to create any opportunities was of concern.

However, as the full-time whistle blew, football took a back seat.

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In the words of Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson after the match, “It’s so much more than football”.

Coming on as a substitute in the 60th minute, Luik looked rock solid in defence, with the 37-year-old not missing a beat in the back line.

Replacing Claire Polkinghorne, she proved exactly why she deserves to be a part of the Matildas squad in terms of her ability on the pitch. After the match, she showed the type of person she is off it.

After the news that her brother Noah had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, Luik immediately made the decision to shave her hair, raising funds along the way.

The target was $30,000 and it was reached comfortably even before the beginning of Tuesday’s match.

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It was fitting that Rebekah Stott, Luik’s ex-teammate who herself has gone through an incredible battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was the one to take the clippers.

For New Zealand coach Jitka Klimkova it was an occasion that she felt privileged to be a part of and one that you don’t often see in international football.

“It’s just a beautiful moment and being a part of it, seeing how Aivi is approaching this hard situation is just unbelievable, incredible and I’m just proud to be part of it,” she said.

“And I know that the Australian players and Kiwis players are very close. So, I hope that everybody felt that kind of support from the Ferns.”

That support was clear to see, as players from both teams surrounded Luik as she had her head shaved. Cheering, clapping, tears and a chant from the stands all encapsulated what was a special moment between the co-hosts of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For Gustavsson, the moment was incredibly moving. Numerous times the Swede almost broke down, getting emotional whenever he spoke about the event.

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Speaking after the game, Gustavsson labelled it as a testament to the family environment that the Matildas hold dear.

“We share our scars, and we are in this together. We are a big Matilda family to the past players, to the present players and to the future players. We have had babies in camp now, I’ve had the privilege at both games to meet family and friends up in the stands and see how much they mean to these players,” he said.

“To see Aivi doing that for her brother and to do it for Stotty as well, it’s so much more than football.”

That’s a sentiment that many hold true. There have been numerous performances from the Matildas on home soil that have lasted a lifetime in the memories of fans.

Wins over dominant Brazilian sides, a Cup of Nations title, some truly incredible moments.

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Despite these special performances, it will be hard to top the memory of Aivi Luik, surrounded by two supposed rival teams, doing something truly remarkable.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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