SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia and England clash in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday in Sydney in the latest installment of a long-standing sporting rivalry between the countries.
Co-hosts Australia have the nation behind them for the first World Cup semi-final in their history and Stadium Australia will be heaving with an anticipated crowd of about 80,000.
Their heart-stopping penalty shootout win over France in the quarter-finals on Saturday was one of the most-viewed television sporting events in Australia in almost two decades.
But England are the European champions and will be favourites to reach the final of the World Cup for the first time, even if they must face down a hostile crowd.
It was put to England’s Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman that she probably did not fully appreciate the enormity of a match between Australia and England.
“It’s going be really big,” she said, with Spain or Sweden awaiting the winner.
“But now I’ve had a couple of questions about that so it’s probably going to be bigger than I imagined now.
“I’ll talk to my players and staff and see what that rivalry is.”
The storied sporting rivalry between Australia and England has already witnessed several episodes this year.
Australia won both the men’s and women’s Ashes cricket series. Australia’s netball team then rubbed salt in English wounds by beating them in the recent World Cup final.
England football captain Millie Bright understands how much it means to fans of both countries.
“I don’t think you can’t look forward to that game,” she told reporters after England came back from a goal down to defeat Colombia 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
“This is the biggest tournament in the women’s game to date so what a game to be a part of.”
She added: “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.”
Team-mate Lauren Hemp, who scored the equaliser against Colombia, said: “Australia, bring it on.
“It’s going to be a packed stadium with so many Australian fans, but we know if we play at our best we are unstoppable.”
England will again be without the banned Lauren James, but they did not miss her in a convincing performance against Colombia in front of a crowd roaring on the South Americans.
England may be ranked six places above the Matildas in the FIFA rankings but the home side are riding on a wave of excitement and acclaim.
They have used the support to lift them in difficult moments and will be banking on more of the same at the imposing Stadium Australia.
They also go into the game after defeating England, 2-0, away in an April friendly, ending the Lionesses’ proud 30-match unbeaten run.
Australia also have striker and skipper Sam Kerr back in the frame after a calf injury.