Co-hosts Australia are “on a mission” to inspire and unite the nation as they head into a Fifa Women’s World Cup semi-final against England on Wednesday, coach Tony Gustavsson said.
The Matildas came through a penalty shootout crammed with twists and turns to beat France 7-6 on Saturday in Brisbane and set up a clash with the Lionesses.
It propelled Australia into the first semi-final in their history and followed 120 minutes of seesawing football that ended deadlocked at 0-0.
National broadcaster ABC called it the game that “stopped the nation” with fans enthralled by Australia’s exploits and packing out the stadium, as well as pubs around the country.
Big screens were also erected in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
“I genuinely really believe that this team can create history in so many ways, not just winning football games,” said Gustavsson, who was assistant to USA coach Jill Ellis when they won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
“The way that they can inspire the nation, how they can unite the nation, how they can leave a legacy that is much bigger than 90 minutes of football.
“That is also why I believe in them so much.
“When that drives you, that is a powerful tool that is very difficult to stop, and I have sensed that from day one working with this team, the inner drive is what gets them to where they are today.”
Kerr to start?
Australia have been a tight unit under the Swede and he fielded the same XI for the third game in a row against France in their quarter-final.
That could change in Sydney when they meet European champions England, who battled from behind to edge Colombia 2-1.
Australia skipper Sam Kerr played 65 minutes against France on her return from a calf injury, making an immediate impact, and the prolific striker is looking increasingly likely to start.
Gustavsson said he toyed with starting the Chelsea forward against France despite her limited match fitness, but believes he made the right decision to hold her back.
“When Sam came in we really had them on the hook. We really got the momentum and from the fans as well, and we were very close to scoring two goals in that period,” he said.
While Kerr made a difference and scored in the shootout, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold was anointed the country’s “cult hero” after stoically standing in France’s way.
The West Ham stopper made three saves in the penalty shootout, keeping her composure after taking a spotkick herself and hitting the woodwork.
“To see the girls rally around me after I missed that and to keep going with the shootout and still have each other’s backs through the whole thing, I think that’s really what got us over the line,” she said.
“I would say it’s up there with the best days of my life,” she added.
“But the biggest feeling is immense pride. I’m so proud to be Australian right now, both for the team and for the fans.”