Australia hosts the World Cup semi-finals at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium with over 75,000 fans. It is the biggest game in Australian football history to date. Even though almost the entire ground is against them, England players also want to enjoy the game.
National coach Toni Gustavsson and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold were asked if they were excited at a press conference ahead of Australia’s semi-final against England on Wednesday (16 August 2023, 12 pm CEST, Erste and sportschau.de) in Sydney. Gustavsson leans forward into his microphone and smiles broadly: “First of all, you can see that a lot of people here are excited about the game.” About 200 journalists filled the room.
The “Matildas” infected the whole of Australia with the soccer virus – and last but not least, they were emotionally drained by the penalty thriller against France. After the game in Brisbane, an Australian journalist wept with joy when he wanted to ask the coach a question in the press conference.
Keeper Arnold: “We’re not done yet”
Almost a thousand kilometers away in Sydney, during England’s quarter-final against Colombia, the vast area remained empty until shortly before kick-off as everyone in and around the stadium was plastered with monitors. Videos of the team celebrating the decisive penalty have gone viral on social media. Newspapers are full. And more than 15 years of watching a show at home at the same time.
“Yes, we are very excited,” was goalkeeper Arnold’s unsurprising reply. The team can’t wait for the biggest day in Australian football history to date. But the keeper added: “We’re not done yet.” And Gustavsson explained: “The team is ready to break down walls and make history. We have the fans behind us.”
Australia have won twice against England recently
While Gustavsson said he did not want to answer the question of favourites, he noted that his team’s players would play for middle-class Swedish clubs and in Australia, or sit on the bench at English clubs where the big English stars are on the field. At the same time .
I didn’t feel any pressure. It’s a privilege that so many people in Australia believe in us. This is unbelievable. It is our fuel, our energy.
However, the recent past speaks for his team. In April, Australia inflicted England’s only defeat after Sarina Wakeman took over. The “Matildas” won the Test match 2-0. Australia also won the Olympics in Japan. Although the competition was officially called Great Britain, there were still many English women in the field.
Will Kerwin’s moment come against England?
Sam Kerr was among the goalscorers in both games. Australia’s superstar – who is yet to return to full strength after an injury at the start of the World Cup. “He played longer against France than we thought,” explained Gustavsson, who brought on the striker in the 55th minute. The 29-year-old, who is a hero at his club Chelsea, had no idea that he still had 65 minutes and a penalty shootout.
“Reset and recover” are the key words after the quarter final. It would also have worked well for sick players. The fact that the coach allowed the families access to the team hotel for the first time after the game gave everyone a boost. But from the bus ride to the airport that morning, the focus would have been on the England game – and the 50-year-old announced some tough personnel decisions.
“Lions” will rely on the ball in their own possession
England coach Sarina Wickman insists she is ready for both events. Whether Kerr plays or not. “Australia are better than them,” insisted the Dutchwoman, who kept possession of the ball as a good counterpoint to the “Matildas'” strength. But he warned: “Australia are definitely not an underdog. They play at home. And the team really outdid themselves during the World Cup.”
Expect no surprises from England
However, it also applies to their selection, which had to be done after the injury-related loss of three European champions this year, Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead. Coach Vixen managed to build a very powerful team. There shouldn’t be any big surprises, at least as far as personnel are concerned.
Lauren James has been suspended for one more game in the semi-final due to a red card against Nigeria. Ella Dunn had already replaced him against Colombia. Otherwise, the knockout rounds have had ten players in the starting lineup twice.
England’s big away game after the European Championship at home
Captain Millie Bright still knows the feeling of last year’s European Championship at home. She did not deny that it was the other way around. “It’s how you want a World Cup semi-final, with a full and loud stadium,” said the defense chief, who, like Kerr, plays for Chelsea. “It’s a proud moment for women’s football when people turn on the TV at home and they see what an incredible atmosphere we’re creating.”
You should enjoy these special moments. We worked hard to reach the semi-finals. We can be proud.
Wiegmann once again prepared his team precisely for the strengths of the opposition, but he also found some weak points. Like his players, the coach is looking forward to the game at the Olympic Stadium, which is once again sold out with 75,000 fans. “A lot is always expected in football, but there are no guarantees. We are now only one step away from the final – we want to take it,” insisted the England coach, who admitted he usually takes the final step. The finalists should really enjoy what is achieved.
“Matildas” is also concerned with politics
The role the “Matildas” now play in Australia is explained by a shift in Australian politics. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recently announced that footballers will be given an extra public holiday if they win the World Cup. Now Peter Dutton retreated. The Leader of Opposition spoke about his opponent’s PR stunt. A public holiday costs the economy $2 billion. Instead, Dutton proposed a 250 million fund for public sports facilities.
Australia’s Arnold: “This is just the beginning”
Footballers don’t have to deal with such political controversies. You will receive enough positive messages. “When you see the reactions we’re getting from all over the country, it feels unreal,” goalkeeper Arnold said. “This is just the beginning. I think there’s a lot more to come.”
Of course, the Matildas’ entry to the World Cup finals could help. But they have already achieved one goal. “We wanted to inspire a new generation,” says Arnold. “I think we’ve done more than that. We’ve accomplished more than we thought we would.”
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