Whole nation watches as Australia face France in World Cup clash
August 12, 2023 11:24 AM
A nation holds its breath as co-hosts Australia aim to reach the World Cup semi-finals'>Women's World Cup semi-finals for the first time when they face France on Saturday, with European champions England or Colombia awaiting them.
The Matildas play France in front of a sell-out Brisbane crowd of more than 50,000 at 0700 GMT, with all eyes on whether skipper Sam Kerr will be in the starting line-up.
Australia's talismanic striker came off the bench for her first minutes of the tournament in the last-16 victory over Denmark and could be in line to start in the quarter-final.
The 29-year-old Chelsea ace, who was supposed to have been the face of the World Cup, suffered a calf injury on the eve of the competition.
Coach Tony Gustavsson was unequivocal Friday when asked by reporters if bringing in Kerr would disrupt a team which recovered from losing 3-2 to Nigeria in the group phase to beat Canada 4-0 before sweeping past Denmark 2-0.
"I want to be very clear with you all now," the Swede said.
"If Sam is fit to play 90 minutes, she is starting, it is not even a question, and the team knows that."
There is a growing sense of optimism and expectation in Australia that their team could go all the way.
The 2011 champions Japan were defeated 2-1 by Sweden on Friday, meaning that there will be a new name on the World Cup trophy this year.
Outgoing holders the United States and former champions Norway and Germany are all already out.
"The whole of Australia will be watching the Matildas and cheering them on," Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday.
France coach Herve Renard is confident that playing against "an entire nation" will bring out the best in his team.
"We love that. This is why we do this job. It is the beauty of football," Renard said.
"We know we are not just playing against one team but against an entire nation. But it just gives us extra motivation. We prefer this to playing a friendly in front of 100 people."
France lost 1-0 to the Matildas in a friendly in Melbourne a week before the World Cup began.
- 'Best yet to come' -
England play Colombia in Sydney at 1030 GMT in front of what promises to be another bumper crowd at the more than 80,000-capacity Stadium Australia.
The Lionesses were regarded as favourites after Sweden defeated the United States in the last 16, but Sarina Wiegman's side only squeezed past Nigeria on penalties last time out.
They also lost their influential attacker Lauren James for two games after she was sent off for stamping on an opponent.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps made light of James's absence on Friday, saying that England were in "a really good spot" and "we've got more gears".
"I think you've seen glimpses of what we're capable of," she added.
"I really think the best is yet to come."
They will be favourites to beat 25th-ranked Colombia but the South Americans have already caused an upset by defeating Germany on their way to their best run ever at the World Cup.
"We know all the history that England brings in football, it's important," said their coach, Nelson Abadia.
"But what's important for me is the strength in the team's character and that is going to be vital for what we need to do."
On Friday, Spain defeated 2019 runners-up the Netherlands 2-1 in extra time and they will face Sweden on Tuesday in the semi-finals.