Fri. Jul 12th, 2024
Australia players celebrate a tense quarterfinal victory over France, and a whole nation celebrated with them. —REUTERS

Australia players celebrate a tense quarterfinal victory over France, and a whole nation celebrated with them. —REUTERS

The quest to achieve something bigger than football in the Women’s World Cup provided enough fuel for countries like the Philippines to achieve historic feats in the tournament being hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand.

Add the Matildas to that list.

Coach Tony Gustavsson expects Australia’s run to the Women’s World Cup semifinals to resonate far beyond the sport’s regular audience as Matildas’ exploits dominated the nation’s media the morning after their penalty shootout win over France.

The tournament cohosts booked their first-ever appearance in the last four with a 7-6 victory on penalties after a 0-0 draw with Herve Renard’s team in Brisbane on Saturday, triggering a bout of football fever across the country.

Record-breaking television and streaming figures plus blanket coverage on the front and back pages of the nation’s newspapers greeted the win, and Gustavsson believes his players can be the catalyst for change throughout Australian society.

“I genuinely really believe that this team can create history in so many ways, not just winning football games,” Gustavsson said.

“The way that they can inspire the next generation, how they can unite a nation or they can leave a legacy that is much bigger than 90 minutes of football. I think that is also why I believe in them so much.”“The why is so much bigger than just football and when that drives you…that is a powerful tool that can be very difficult to stop.”

The Filipinas, handled by former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic, also rode on that motivation to create an impact beyond the score sheet and win-loss columns.

“To bring football to life in the Philippines has been a moment you can’t turn back from,” Stajcic said after the Philippines’ final game, a 6-0 loss to Norway that eliminated the Filipinas but only after the squad won the country its first World Cup match and scored its first goal ever.

“These players have really left their mark and left a legacy for future generations. I can’t ask any more. They gave everything.”

Whether it was the Philippines battling to inspire young kids back home or a crowdfunded Jamaica playing to show its team was worthy of financial support from its federation, motivation was high for several teams.And for Australia, the same held true. Sporting diet

“I’ve sensed that from day one working with this team, the inner drive and the why is what gets them to where they are today,” Gustavsson said.

The Matildas have temporarily usurped Australia’s usual sporting diet of rugby league and Australian Football League in the media and attention levels are only likely to increase as Gustavsson’s team face the country’s age-old rivals England in Wednesday’s semifinal.

Neither nation has ever advanced to a Women’s World Cup final and the 49-year-old Swede, who was appointed Australia coach almost three years ago, is relishing another winner-takes-all clash.

“Recovery is key,” he said. “What’s good is that we have continuity in what we’re doing. We have a clear playing style. We don’t need to train to be tactically prepared. It’s more about making sure we’re mentally and physically prepared for the semifinal coming up.

“But these players are on a mission. I know that they’re going to celebrate this one, but from tomorrow they’re going to be focused again, they’re extremely professional and they’re on the mission.”

England players hold no fear about facing the tournament cohosts Australia, saying they welcome the vociferous atmosphere that will greet them at Stadium Australia.

The Lionesses had a taste of it when they beat Colombia in the quarterfinal at the same venue on Saturday, with the majority of the 75,784-strong crowd supporting the South Americans and jeering every England touch of the ball.


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By Sandra Winters

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