Two ground-breaking moments in Australian sports history have been honoured, with the Matildas and the Sydney 2000 women's water polo gold medallists winning major…
If Sam Kerr is fit to play 90 minutes, she will start against France.
Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson cut to the chase when asked about the role Australia’s superstar captain would play in Saturday’s Women’s World Cup quarter-final.
Kerr has played a tick over 10 minutes against Denmark to date, with a starting front four of Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond and Hayley Raso thriving in her absence.
But Gustavsson dismissed the suggestion dropping someone for Kerr, if she is fit to start after returning from her calf injury, could disrupt that dynamic.
“They’ve been amazing teammates supporting each other. There’s been no complaints whatsoever in terms of if you start or come off the bench – they know their role and they play their role,” Gustavsson said.
“And I definitely would never, ever see Sam as a disturbance to the team.
“I want to be very clear in here now to say if Sam is fit to play 90 minutes, she is starting. There is not even a question and the team knows it.
“We’re talking about Sam Kerr here.
“Whether she is ready to play 90 minutes plus extra time, that’s to be decided tonight. But there is no question whatsoever that if she is, she is starting.”
Whether Kerr has the minutes in her legs to start, after minimal involvement to date since her calf injury, is another thing – and will be decided at a medical team meeting on Friday night.
Australia have consistently played mind games over the striker’s minutes, and could well use Kerr from the bench again.
“Is she going to play tomorrow or not? That’s not what worries me,” France coach Herve Renard said via a translator.
Striker Eugenie Le Sommer added: “It’s true that she’s a very big player, very good.
“She can score lots of goals and she can make the difference but I never focus on one particular player.”
All 23 players, including Kerr, trained at Brisbane’s Perry Park on Friday, though Kyah Simon left the main group early.
France know what it feels like to wilt under the pressure of a home Women’s World Cup, losing in the quarter-finals in 2019, and have tried to project that onto the Matildas.
“We’re hoping to put Australia through exactly what France went through when they were the host country,” Renard said this week.
Defender Ellie Carpenter expects Australia to embrace the pressure and urged the Brisbane crowd to bring the noise.
“I love the pressure and I think we love the pressure. We turn that into ‘look around – all these people in this stadium are cheering for us,'” she told reporters.
“We don’t take it on as pressure. We take it as look at this, it’s such a privilege being able to play at home in front of 50,000, 70,000, 30,000-odd people watching us, cheering us on and that only helps us.
“That’s our 12th player on the field and I cannot stress enough honestly throughout the game when you’re going through a tough period and we don’t have the ball for a bit and the crowd gets in, it really, really helps us.
“It’s no pressure at all. It’s honestly a privilege and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything than playing that game tomorrow. This is why we play football. It’s for these games.”
Sweden have blunted Japan’s Women’s World Cup charge and won through to another semi-final with a 2-1 victory in Auckland.
Goalsneak defender Amanda Ilestedt was at it again, netting a first-half goal before Filippa Angeldal iced the victory with a second-half penalty.
After Riko Ueki’s missed spot kick Japan did score a consolation, with Honoka Hayashi racing onto a failed block with three minutes remaining.
That goal ended Sweden’s run without conceding at 381 minutes.
However, after surviving 10 minutes of added time, the Europeans won the bigger prize: a semi-final against Spain back in Auckland on Tuesday night.
The result means the last remaining World Cup winner has been eliminated, and a first-time champion will be crowned in Sydney on August 20.
“We fought together,” teary Japanese captain Saki Kumagai said.
“We gave everything but our World Cup is over now.”
Until Friday night, world No.11 Japan looked a strong chance to repeat their 2011 glory, as the only side to have won all four of their matches in 90 minutes.
Instead, Sweden ended their campaign with a relentless press, harassing Japanese defenders into submission.
Nadeshiko couldn’t manage a shot for the opening hour, by which time the Swedes had put the game to bed.
The opener came on the half-hour mark, with Japan failing to clear four blocked or deflected shots, allowing Ilestedt to steal in and smash home from close range.
The Arsenal defender’s goal puts her in the frame for an unlikely golden boot.
Ilestedt now has four goals, following her three group stage headers, and has only Hinata Miyazawa, now eliminated from the tournament, above her on five.
Sweden continued their assault and were denied a healthier margin by a pair of sensational saves from Ayaka Yamashita.
Before the break, she did enough to tip Kosovare Asllani’s volley onto the post, which ricocheted off the inside of the post and clear.
Yamashita was at full stretch to deny Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s effort early in the second half.
From that corner kick, the world No.3 grabbed their eventual winner, with Fuka Nagano unsighted and handballing, allowing Angeldahl to score her penalty.
Japan eventually came alive as Swedish legs – after 120 brutal minutes against the US in their round-of-16 clash – tired.
A feather-touch tackle by Sweden’s Madelen Janogy on Ueki brought the Japanese No.9 to the spot, only for her to thrash her penalty onto the bar.
Aoba Fujino then came extraordinarily close with a free kick that deceived Zecira Musovic, clattering off the bar and onto the goalkeeper’s head before bouncing clear.
As Musovic called for treatment, play resumed and Japan finally took a chance with Hayashi scoring an easy goal when an attempted clearance stopped the ball dead just five metres from goal.
There would be no equaliser, meaning Sweden have now made the last four in three of the last four World Cups, and sending Japan home.