Brisbane Roar's Rio-bound Westfield Matildas returned home to a heroes' welcome today as family, friends and the media turned out in force to congratulate the players who have done Australia proud.
Green and gold balloons, flowers and lots of hugs and kisses were the order of the day as the Roar's Clare Polkinghorne, Katrina Gorry and Emily Gielnik flew into Brisbane after an amazing 10 days in Japan where they powered undefeated through the Olympic qualifying tournament to book a place at the Rio Games in August.
(The Roar's other representative in the Westfield Matildas squad, Tameka Butt, flew from Japan to Sweden where she is playing during the Westfield W-League off-season).
"We are starting to build on the foundation that we set at the World Cup and this tournament has just proved the type of football we can play and gives us confidence going forward," said Polkinghorne, the Westfield Matildas co-captain and Brisbane Roar W-League team captain.
"We've set high standards for ourselves. This tournament was the stepping stone to get to our main goal and that's gold at the Olympics.
"We've got a long way to go if we want to win gold but we've definitely got the talent in the group to do it.
"We've continued to grow as a group . . . a lot of players have stepped up. If we can have another solid preparation leading to the Olympics there's definitely no limits now."
Gorry (above) scored two goals and stamped herself once again as one of the most hard-working midfielders in the game.
"I haven't been on the scoreboard in an international game in a while so it was nice to score a header against Japan and follow up against North Korea in a do-or-die match," Gorry said.
"It's pretty exciting times and hopefully it will follow through to Rio."
Gielnik was recalled to the national squad after a stellar Westfield W-League season.
"It feels great to wear the green and gold again . . . I feel very lucky and very privileged to be back in there and I obviously will be doing everything I can to stay part of it," she said.
All three players thanked their supporters and said it was an important boost to know the country was behind them in every game.
"It was awesome to see everyone get behind us and show their support for us and when we go out on the field that's what we think about - what we are doing for Australia and what we are doing for the younger generation coming through and the people that are looking up to us," said Gorry.
"We've set a standard for ourselves . . . and hopefully we can show Australia what we are made of in Rio."
Gielnik (below, No.15) said it was important the Westfield Matildas continued to be role-models for the current and next generation of footballers.
"All the young and aspiring football fans that are playing at grass-roots and NPL are going to have something to look up to and it was a really important moment for us," Gielnik said.
"The Olympics is the pinnacle of your sport and it is such a great achievement for everyone to feel."
And it was extra special for Polkinghorne, who had been part of two unsuccessful bids to qualify and has taken her own game to new levels since the World Cup to stamp herself as Matildas starter once again.
Her pure joy was reflected in a superb photograph (above) of her jumping high in the air in celebration at the full-time whistle after the game in whicjh the Australians clinched Games qualification.
"That photo is 12 years of built-up emotion and two failed attempts at qualifying previously," Polkinghorne explained.
"It was just massive relief and excitement and enormous pride in what we had achieve as a group."