Sydney: Australia coach Tony Gustavsson says self-belief and massive fan support could make the difference when they meet England for a place in the Women’s World Cup final on Wednesday.
The co-hosts have already created history with their maiden run to the last four, and are determined to keep breaking barriers and go even further.
Gustavsson said Serena Wiegman’s world No 4 England would be favourites at Sydney’s Stadium Australia, but the Matildas had something the Lionesses did not.
“If you look at rankings they’re favourites, if you look at where their players play in top clubs in top leagues all over the world,” he said on Tuesday.
“If you look at all that and the resources financially, obviously they are a massive favourite going into the game.
“But if you add the belief we have, and the one thing we have that they don’t - and that is the support from the fans, that itself is going to be massive tomorrow.”
The Matildas’ exploits have triggered a groundswell of support at home.
Their heart-stopping penalty shootout win over France in the quarter-finals was the most-viewed television sporting event in Australia since Cathy Freeman ran her iconic 400m race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
It has sparked so much interest that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is considering declaring a public holiday should they win the tournament.
“We don’t look at it as pressure,” Gustavsson said of handling the growing expectations.
“We look at it as a privilege that so many people believe in this team and we feel the support.
“We look at it more as fuel and energy than pressure.”
Adding to the excitement is the long-standing sporting rivalry between the countries.
While the 10th-ranked Matildas have already achieved their best at a World Cup, victory for European champions England would also be a landmark, surpassing their third place finish in 2015.
Australia go into the game after defeating their rivals 2-0 away in an April friendly, ending the Lionesses’ 30-match unbeaten run.
They also have striker and skipper Sam Kerr back in the frame for a starting berth after a calf injury.
Gustavsson faces a tough decision on whether to play Kerr from kick-off and potentially have to withdraw her in the latter stages, or use her again as a super-sub to weave her magic.
When the Chelsea star came off the bench against France, she had an immediate impact.
“She pushed through more minutes than we hoped for,” Gustavsson said of Kerr.
“The way she pushed through was fantastic and impressive, both the mental and physical aspect.
“She recovered well and trained today, so she’s available. We will be meeting tonight to see again the best starting 11 and the best finishing 11. There will be some tough decisions.”
Having Kerr back in his arsenal is a boost, given she plays regularly against many in the England team and has a good record against goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Kerr put one past her in that 2-0 friendly win, and did so again a fortnight later when Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final.
England ready for big games
Captain Millie Bright says England thrive in big games and will not be intimidated by the Sydney crowd.
“We are just super-excited to play in front of a really intense full stadium. That’s what we want, that’s what we expect now,” the 29-year-old defender said on Tuesday.
“At these big tournaments, especially a semi-final, we thrive in these moments. We know as an England team there’s always pressure and it’s something we embrace and deal with.
“I think we’ve experienced moments like this, a tense environment, big stadiums, big crowds, and we do thrive in those moments, it gives us energy,” she added.
“But ultimately it’s about sticking to the task and executing the game plans very well.”
Coach Sarina Wiegman does not believe her team are favourites, especially with the home support roaring the Matildas on.
“I don’t think they are underdogs,” she said. “They are playing at home, the stadium will be really full.
“We are two teams who I think have grown into the tournament so I think it’s going to be very tight and very, very competitive.
“We approach the game as any other game and we expect a very strong Australia.”