Matildas to venture beyond belief against England for spot in World Cup final

Belief is a powerful force, particularly when a place in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final beckons in Sydney on Wednesday night.

And the Matildas are brimming with it and confidence in equal measure, buoyed by the fanatical support and impressive results in overcoming Olympic champions Canada, world No.5 France and No.13 Denmark en route to the semi-final.

In contrast, England will be hoping it’s third time lucky for the Lionesses after losing to Japan in 2015 and the USA in 2019 at the same stage.

The Australians are in uncharted territory, having reached their first World Cup semi-final. But with wins over the other semi-finalists in the Tony Gustavsson era, the Matildas are better placed than ever before to take the final step.

They reversed a harrowing 7-0 loss to Spain in June 2022 with a 3-2 win in February’s Cup of Nations. Likewise, they recorded a 4-0 win against Sweden in Melbourne in November.

Most pertinent, the Matildas ended the Lionesses’ 30-game unbeaten streak in a 2-0 friendly win at Brentford in April that could yet be the blueprint for a speed-driven display of counterattacking football at Stadium Australia.

But as Tameka Yallop explained, there is a major difference between friendlies and major tournaments.

“It gives us belief. It does show that we can beat the top teams,” Yallop said.

“While we can take some positives from the friendlies, we’re going into this as a brand-new game and something that requires its own focus.”

The story so far

Lauren Hemp draws England level against Colombia. Photo: Getty

Though it has yet to reach the heights warranting its status as European champions, England remains unbeaten in the tournament.

Injuries have played their part with captain Leah Williamson, Euros Golden Boot winner Beth Mead and Fran Kirby being ruled out before the tournament with knee injuries, but their replacements have more than filled the void.

The 2-1 victory against Colombia remains the highlight, following the penalty shootout win against Nigeria, and a solid but uninspiring group performance that included 1-0 wins against Haiti and Denmark, and a 6-1 demolition of China.

Perhaps the biggest blow is the two-game suspension handed to Lauren James in the round of 16 match against Nigeria which could affect the Lionesses’ creative outlets to goal.

Rivalry? What rivalry?

Much has been made of an Ashes-style confrontation, but neither England nor the Matildas are keen to talk of a rivalry.

England midfielder Keira Walsh says the Lionesses are only thinking about progressing.

“We are just fully focused on trying to reach a World Cup final, regardless of who we are playing,” the Barcelona star said. “Whatever game I play, I want to win.”

Lydia Williams on Monday at Sydney Football Stadium. Photo: Getty

Five-time World Cup veteran Lydia Williams expressed a similar view.

“Obviously you see it in the men’s competitions, especially in cricket and rugby,” Williams said.  “But for us, we’ve had so many rivalries with other countries that we’ve played against. We’ve played against Brazil at every other World Cup … you could say that about America … so really, for us it’s just another game.”

Yallop confirmed the view: “The biggest internal rivalry is probably New Zealand still.”

How it will play out

Of the 23-member Matildas squad, 10 play in England’s Women’s Super League and would be very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

In many ways it’s similar to the ‘mate against mate’ ethos embraced by rugby league’s State of Origin.

“We play against them. We know what (their) tendencies are, versing them week in, week out and watching them,” Williams said.

“So it’s more of a chess match and how you get the better of each other.”

In an ideal scenario, both teams would be playing open, expansive football featuring end-to-end action throughout the 90 minutes.

But the reality is likely to be much more conservative, particularly considering the high stakes of making a World Cup final.

The physical toll of playing more than 120 minutes – and lack of substitutions through the tournament – could affect the Australian side if the match goes into extra time and beyond. Then again, that’s dismissing the #Tilitsdone, never-say-die mindset that is driving the Matildas.

Control the hype


Sam Kerr is leading by example, on and off the field. Photo: Getty

Sam Kerr captured the mood of the Matildas in her Instagram post of photos with long-time teammates Caitlin Foord and Emily Van Egmond.

“4th World Cup together, 1st semi together. Jobs not done,” Kerr posted with the “strong” emoji.

‘‘Job’s not done’’ is leadership in three words.

The ability to switch off the Matildas mania sweeping the nation and focus on the job at hand is crucial – particularly given the short turnaround between matches – to ensure maximum rest and recovery.

Duels to watch

Four clean sheets in five matches have shown the Matildas have been defending well.

But the sterling efforts by Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy and co. will have to continue against an impressive attacking side that includes the firepower of Beth England, Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp, shootout hero Chloe Kelly and potentially WSL golden boot Rachel Daly (who has been thriving at left wing back in partnership with Lucy Bronze).

Alessia Russo celebrates her winner against Colombia. Photo: Getty

To counter the threat the Matildas will likely look to wing backs Ellie Carpenter and Steph Catley to catch out the English back five, helping Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso set up the likes of Kerr and advancing midfielders Mary Fowler, Emily Van Egmond and Katrina Gorry.

The tactical battles between managers Sarina Wiegman and Tony Gustavsson will also be vital to the outcome.

A three-time winner of FIFA’s Best Women’s Coach award, Wiegman has twice won the Euros (The Netherlands in 2017 and England in 2022) but is yet to taste the ultimate success, having lost the final with the Netherlands to the USA in 2019.

In contrast, Gustavsson has twice been part of the victorious American team as assistant coach in 2015 and 2019.

Net gains

England keeper Mary Earps will be hoping Sam Kerr doesn’t continue her knack of scoring against her. Photo: Getty

Matildas captain Sam Kerr is one of the very few players in the world who has got the better of England and Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps over the past two seasons.

Not only did noted big-game player Kerr score the opening goal after pouncing on a poor header from Leah Williamson in England’s only loss under Sarina Wiegman in April, the Matildas captain netted the winner in the FA Cup final in May, and sealed the title for Chelsea on the final day of the 2021-22 WSL season with a double.

In all, Kerr has scored eight times against Earps in all competitions for the Blues against the Red Devils.

England captain and Chelsea teammate Millie Bright said after that game Kerr was ‘‘that sort of player – just needs one chance and ‘bang’ it’s in the back of the net’’.

The Matildas play England at 8pm on Wednesday. It will screen on Channel 7 and 7plus and Optus Sport

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