The Matildas will spend the next two days sleeping, eating and riding a national wave of support all the way to a historic World Cup semi-final, as England declare they will thrive in front of a hostile Stadium Australia crowd.
Tony Gustavsson allowed his squad to soak up their famous quarter-final win over France on Saturday night and Sunday morning, suggesting the celebrations were “part of a mental recovery”.
“Let’s bring the nation in and actually embrace and enjoy this moment,” Gustavsson said. “Then sleep and recovery is key. It was a massive physical output for a lot of players.
“What’s good is that we have continuity in what we’re doing. We have a clear playing style, so we don’t really need to train to be tactically prepared. It’s more about making sure we’re mentally and physically prepared for the semi-final. These players are on a mission. They’re going celebrate this one, but then they will be focused again.”
That focus is two-fold. Firstly it is on replenishing fatigued legs. Gustavsson has used the same starting XI for three consecutive games now and many of those played the full 120 minutes against France while Sam Kerr, on return from a calf injury, managed 65 minutes off the bench.
The second is England in the last four on Wednesday night back at Sydney’s Stadium Australia – a venue to which they hope to return once more for Sunday’s final.
The quarter-final delivered one of the biggest TV audiences in 20 years, but Australia’s first-ever World Cup semi-final – women or men – will almost certainly trump that.
Awaiting are the European champions, who came from behind to defeat Colombia 2-1 in their quarter-final and secure their place, and took only 90 minutes to do it.
This next match will double as a renewal of one of the great sporting rivalries between Australia and England. The Matildas got the better of the Lionesses in April, winning 2-0 in a friendly in Brentford.
But Sarina Wiegman’s side were quick to tell the world one thing before facing more than 75,000 mostly Australian supporters.
“Australia, bring it on,” said Lauren Hemp, who scored one of England’s two goals against Colombia. I’m absolutely over the moon. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a packed-out stadium with so many Australian fans, but we know if we play at our best we are unstoppable.
“As a group we thrived off the amount of Colombian fans. It just makes it so much more exciting.”
England captain Millie Bright, a Chelsea teammate of Sam Kerr, said it was impossible not to look forward to such a high-profile and hostile encounter.
“This is the biggest tournament in the women’s game to date, so what a game to be a part of,” Bright said. “We’re not just coming here to compete; we’re coming here to get the job done and we’ve shown that in our mentality and character in every single game.”
Matildas defender Clare Polkinghorne, who did not play on Saturday night but was in the heart of defence for the April friendly, described world No.4 England as “a world-class team”.
“They’re going to be very difficult to come up against,” Polkinhorne said. “But we’re definitely looking forward to the challenge, and we know if we play to our potential we’ve got belief in what we can do.”
The Matildas flew back to Sydney on Sunday, serenaded by the public as they left their hotel and arrived at each airport.
Vice-captain Steph Catley said the achievement was the culmination of hard work and heartbreak, including exiting the 2019 World Cup in the round of 16, narrowly missing out on a Tokyo Olympics medal and being dumped out of the 2022 Asian Cup in the quarter-finals.
“We have been through those moments in the past and we’ve been through the heartache,” Catley said.
“It’s hard from the outside, when we’ve lost something, for everyone to sort of understand how much you do gain from those situations. And I think this team has been through everything.
“We’ve got a perfect little balance of a core group that understand the gravity of the situations, and a small group of younger players who might not understand the gravity, which is kind of bliss.
“You’ve got their their confidence and their flair, and then we’ve got mature [players] bringing an understanding to moments like that.
“We’re just primed for this moment. We’ve got the Australian crowd behind us, and we’re doing something special.”
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