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…
England’s hopes of drowning out the parochial home crowd at Accor Stadium on Wednesday night are likely to be silenced after a unique supporter code for the away fans was leaked out into Australian hands.
Matildas fans have gobbled up seats in the section of the crowd set aside for England fans after the code was posted on social media.
England fans have been voicing their anger on social media that the Australians have infiltrated their area.
The match will be a sell-out and after their penalty shootout heroics in Brisbane on Saturday night, the Matildas will not just have the crowd on their side but the entire nation cheering them on against an England team they beat in a friendly just four months ago.
“It’s been in the pipeline for the last two years,” midfielder Tameka Yallop said.
“We obviously went through not necessarily a rebuilding stage, but an adjustment stage with a new coach.
“But we’ve always had these core players that we’ve had, we’ve always had this talent, and I think right now everything is coming together and we do feel like we are playing the best football that we’ve ever played together.
“We’ve got so much belief within this team that yeah, we do feel we’re right where we belong.”
Outside of Australians, there might not be anyone more nervously awaiting a decision on whether Sam Kerr will start the Women’s World Cup semi-final than Mary Earps.
For club and country, Australia’s superstar captain has consistently menaced the England and Manchester United goalkeeper.
Kerr coolly chipped Earps in the Matildas’ 2-0 win over the Lionesses in April, after a poor header from Leah Williamson left the goalkeeper stranded, in England’s only loss under manager Sarina Wiegman.
With club outfit Chelsea, Kerr has consistently delighted in beating the Manchester United goalkeeper.
That included scoring the winner in the FA Cup final in May, barely a month after her heroics in the England friendly.
After that game, Chelsea teammate and England captain Millie Bright said Kerr was “that sort of player – just needs one chance and ‘bang’ it’s in the back of the net”.
In total, Kerr has taken eight chances across all competitions for Chelsea against Manchester United, with Earps in goal for all of them.
But perhaps her best-remembered moments against Earps came on the final day of the 2021-22 WSL season, when Kerr sealed Chelsea the WSL title.
With Chelsea 2-1 down against United and their title hopes in serious jeopardy, the Australian captain blasted home a crucial thunderbolt equaliser at the start of the second half to launch a brilliant comeback.
Then, in the 66th minute, Kerr took the ball on her chest and swivelled instantly to hit a miraculous, looped long-range volley to seal a 4-2 victory.
So does Kerr have an edge in her biggest clash with Earps yet, at Stadium Australia on Wednesday night?
“I’m probably different because I think it’s kind of funny when you come up against someone that maybe there’s that kind of edge,” Matildas back-up goalkeeper Lydia Williams told reporters.
“But I definitely think that you get it held over you a little bit.
“But she (Earps) would be going out there looking to not let that happen.
“Really it’s anyone can score and everyone’s done a job and we’ve had so many different scorers.
“So you can’t really nullify one without someone else being available to do that as well.”
If attack wins games and defence wins championships, the Matildas can finally feel confident of their hopes of going all the way at the Women’s World Cup.
Australia have overcome the defensive disasters of Tony Gustavsson’s first days at the helm and gradually turned their back line into a strength.
Bar a 3-2 slip-up against Nigeria, the Matildas have kept a clean sheet in their other four games.
Clare Hunt’s rapid ascension has been huge, as has Alanna Kennedy’s superb return from a series of injuries, while Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter are as reliable as ever.
Then there’s penalty shootout hero Mackenzie Arnold in career-best form between the sticks.
“We have just as much pride in keeping the ball out of the back of our net as putting it in their net,” Williams told reporters.
“We’ve really knuckled down just how proud we are at being defensive-minded.
“If you don’t get anything scored against you, the game heads further and further towards extra-time and penalties, but it also gives us more of an opportunity to then score in their net.
“Our defence is rock solid and we’re really proud of keeping clean sheets, as well as our goalkeeping unit. So really, it is: be proud of scoring, but even be prouder of the clean sheet.”
Arnold’s rise from third-choice shotstopper in the Tokyo Olympics to arguably goalkeeper of the World Cup has been crucial.
“To step up and perform the way she did, I’m so proud of her,” Williams said.
“It’s been a long road – a goalkeeper’s journey is a long and lengthy one.
“You have to wait a long time and then when you get your opportunity, it’s seizing it by both hands.
“Just the way that she’s performed and definitely in that game, it’s really quite amazing to see. And I’m really happy for her.”
Experienced goalkeeping coach Tony Franken, who was Williams’ first mentor as a 15-year-old, has been an important addition.
Franken worked with the Socceroos at the 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
“When the spot kind of came open that we needed a goalkeeper coach. I was like this is someone who I think is really intelligent,” Williams said.
“Obviously, he was with Schwarzy, (Mark Schwarzer), with Maty Ryan for a little bit as well and he’s really well respected and knows his stuff.
“He’s just been a real support and helped the group, and not only just the goalkeeping group, the whole group.
“It’s been really exciting to work with him, especially how long that he’s been around.”
England midfielder Keira Walsh insists the Lionesses are not thinking about the Australian hearts they would break if they eliminate the World Cup co-hosts.
Australia reached the final four for the first time after beating France in a thrilling penalty shootout, while this will be England’s third crack at advancing to the final of the global showpiece – a feat they have yet to accomplish.
“Whatever game I play, I want to win,” Walsh said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing against. For us, I wouldn’t say we are thinking about spoiling the party.
“I think it is just another game and a massive game at that.
“We are just fully focused on trying to reach a World Cup final, regardless of who we are playing.
“I think obviously with the support from Australia it is going to be a little bit different for them in that sense.
“I think we have seen that the (England) girls are ready to fight.
“Obviously, when the whistle ends it is a different story, but I think in the game the girls are very aware of what the game is going to be like, what the stadium is going to be like.
“I think, for us, we are more than ready for it.”
Walsh, who in just over a year has secured both the Euro 2022 trophy with England and the Champions League title with Barcelona, said dampening the crowd’s mood with a goal or two could help the Lionesses take control of the narrative.
“(The crowd) was massive for us at the Euros, especially in the final,” she said.
“There are those moments where the opposition could score and it shifts momentum sometimes when you’re playing, it gives you an extra push when you know the crowd is behind you.
“But also when you can quieten the crowd it is a very nice feeling. I think for us trying to take the momentum out of the game is going to be important.
“There are positives and negatives for both. We have experienced both.”
Walsh missed England’s third group-stage encounter against China after sustaining a knee injury in the first half of their 1-0 victory over Denmark.
At the time it was feared the issue could be tournament-ending, like the anterior cruciate ligament injuries that prevented Euro 2022 captain Leah Williamson and Golden Boot winner Beth Mead from joining Sarina Wiegman’s World Cup squad.
It turned out not to be as serious as initially suspected, and the 26-year-old returned to play 120 minutes of England’s last-16 victory over Nigeria, which the Lionesses ultimately won 4-2 on penalties.