Fifa Women’s World Cup semi-final: Australia v England
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney Date:16 August Kick-off:11:00 BST
England and Australia are both hoping to make history by reaching the Women’s World Cup final for the first time when they meet in Sydney on Wednesday.
Australia boss Tony Gustavsson, whose side progressed to the last four with an epic penalty shootout victory over France, says the co-hosts “are on a mission – they are not done yet”.
The Matildas had never advanced beyond the quarter-finals before this tournament, while European champions England are playing in their third successive World Cup semi-final.
“You can never take anything for granted,” said Lionesses manager Sarina Wiegman, whose side came from behind to defeat Colombia 2-1 in their quarter-final.
“It’s very special to go so far in the tournament but when you’re there you really want to win and get to the final.”
The winner will face Spain in Sunday’s final at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Australia would be the first hosts to reach the final since USA’s victory on home soil in 1999, while England are bidding to become the sixth nation – after Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands – to reach both a men’s and women’s World Cup final.
Who are the favourites?
England, ranked fourth in the world, are coming up against a side who are 10th in the rankings and in uncharted territory.
But the Lionesses have not been at their fluent best at this tournament, while Australia have home advantage and will be backed by a fervent crowd at the 81,000-capacity Stadium Australia.
“If you look at rankings they’re favourites, if you look at where their players play, they have starting players in top clubs in top leagues all over the world,” said Gustavsson.
“We have bench players in those teams. We have players playing in mid-table teams in Sweden.
“So if you look at all that and you look at resources, financially, obviously they are massive favourites going into this game.”
However, Wiegman was quick to dismiss any suggestion of favouritism, saying: “I don’t think they are the underdog, they’re playing at home. The stadium will be really full.
“It’s two teams that are very strong and that have grown into the tournament. I think it’s going to be very tight and very, very competitive.”
Gustavsson did agree the Sydney crowd could have a big impact on the result.
“The one thing that we have that they don’t have is the support and belief from the fans,” he added. “That in itself is going to be massive.”
The Lionesses will still be without their top scorer at the tournament, Lauren James, through suspension, while Australia captain and all-time record scorer Sam Kerr is yet to start a game at the World Cup following injury.
The match will be the nations’ first meeting at a Women’s World Cup, while Australia won their most recent encounter – a friendly in April which ended England’s 30-match unbeaten run and inflicted the Lionesses’ only defeat under Wiegman.
The teams drew 1-1 in a friendly in 2018 while England twice beat Australia in non-competitive matches in 2015, winning 3-0 in March and 1-0 in October.
‘Matildas Mania’ in Australia
There is no doubt the World Cup has captured the public’s attention in Australia. In Sydney, tickets for the semi-final are like gold dust and such is the desire to watch the match collectively dozens of screening sites have popped up across the city and the country.
Sydney Football Stadium – which has hosted six World Cup matches – is opening its doors for fans to watch on the big screens, while Parramatta’s Western Sydney Stadium and other sports grounds and plazas, pubs and hotels are also showing the match.
It was estimated 11,000 fans watched Australia’s win over France in the quarter-final at the Fifa fan festival in Sydney, with thousands watching at other fan parks across Australia.
Another England-Australia rivalry is born
England and Australia share a unique sporting rivalry.
After a thrilling men’s and women’s Ashes series this summer and a final between the two nations at the Netball World Cup, this is the third instalment of the England-Australia rivalry in recent months.
That said, both sides have tried to play down any hints of a rivalry in their pre-match news conferences, although the narrative is hard to ignore.
“The media do talk a lot but for us it’s not about Australia, we want to win regardless,” said England midfielder Keira Walsh.
While Australia keeper Lydia Williams said she saw the match as “just another game”.
How do the managers compare?
Under Wiegman, England have played 37 matches, winning 29, drawing seven and suffering just one loss – the defeat to Australia mentioned above.
The 53-year-old manager has a stellar international record, having led her native Netherlands to a home European Championship win in 2017 and the 2019 World Cup final.
After taking over as England boss in September 2021 she coached the Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory last year. Wiegman’s sides have never lost a semi-final in a major international tournament.
Gustavsson has won 18 of his 38 matches in charge of the Matildas and led Australia to a fourth-place finish at the Olympics, their best-ever run in the competition having beaten Great Britain in the last eight.
He was also an assistant manager for the United States when they lifted the World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis is predicting the outcome of all 64 games in Australia and New Zealand:
Everything is stacked in Australia’s favour in terms of their form and having home advantage – but England have shown a knack for grinding out results. They have an underlying character and belief that they can get through games and win them.
They lost to Australia in a friendly in April but maybe that was a little reality check and they will remember that.
It gives the Lionesses an added incentive to go and beat them. It didn’t mean anything to England at the time – it probably meant more to Australia as it was building towards a home tournament – but it certainly would have jarred and would not have sat well with the English players.
Given England are meeting Australia in the semi-finals, that gives a clear reality of where the Matildas’ level is currently at. But there’s an added incentive for England to go and get that revenge.
Brown-Finnis’ prediction: Australia 1-2 England