FIFA Women's World Cup
For Sam Kerr and Australia, this World Cup was a triumph no matter what
FIFA Women's World Cup

For Sam Kerr and Australia, this World Cup was a triumph no matter what

Updated Aug. 19, 2023 6:54 a.m. ET

Sam Kerr probably should have left the field. As she hobbled to her feet in the final 15 minutes on Saturday, Australia's star forward might, if health was her main concern, have just kept limping all the way to the bench.

For this was "only" the third-place game of the Women's World Cup, a contest so often derided as meaningless, unnecessary or obsolete. And Kerr's team was trailing 2-0 against Sweden with little chance of a recovery, she'd had spent the first half of the tournament with a calf injury and had now just been clattered by a rough challenge from behind and was wincing in pain.

Time to exit stage-right, surely?

Well, to expect that is to assume a few things that were proved to be false Saturday. For a start, the bronze medal playoff doesn't always feel like an afterthought and it certainly didn't here, contested as it was with all the ferocity of a semifinal.


As for Kerr, women's soccer finest player doesn't have an ounce of quit in her and while that 2-0 score would hold, don't fool yourself into thinking she wasn't aware of the gravity of what this moment meant to her country.

[Sweden again claims third place at World Cup, thwarting hopes of host Australia]

Sweden vs. Australia Highlights | 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup | Third Place Match

Australia, not historically a place where soccer has held a beloved reputation, fell head over heels for the Matildas over the past month, and the host nation's team wasn't going to depart without leaving everything on the field.

Sweden deserved its win, to capture third-spot in the world's biggest tournament for the third time in the last four renditions, a mighty effort for a country of 10 million in a time when the game is rapidly globalizing, broadening and improving.

But it was hard not to feel some sadness for the Aussies, whose campaign included no shortage of adversity but who pushed it all aside with a healthy helping of timely magic.

[Australia captivated a nation and inspired next generation: 'This is not the end']

Some sympathy was due to Kerr, too, because can you imagine what her World Cup might have looked like had that tortured calf not gotten damaged on the literal eve of the competition, and if she'd been able to play a full part in the early games, and if she'd not spent half her time on the physical therapist's table.

The semifinal wonder-goal against England, not enough as it turned out but still a true highlight of this event, was the merest glimpse of what was possible.

Sam Kerr's LEGENDARY strike vs. England in the World Cup semifinals | Every Angle

As a table-setter for Sunday's final (coverage begins at 5 a.m. ET with kickoff at 6 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), this game did the job nicely. It showed the passion of the co-hosts, and Australia the nation has done just as well as Australia the team in bringing fun and color and a thoroughly appropriate welcome to women's soccer's ultimate showpiece.

If Spain vs. England matches up in the championship game with similar intensity, we are going to be in for a treat. Neither Australia nor Sweden wished to depart the World Cup like ships in the night, and no quarter was asked or given.

Things got seriously scrappy, with tough, physical challenges all over the field, plus a pushing match between Kosovare Asllani and Katrina Gorry.

Kerr was on the end of some rough stuff — she usually is it seems these days — but didn't bite and shrugged it off to try to take her revenge with the ball.

It didn't happen, with Fridolina Rolfo's first-half penalty and Asllani's fine breakaway goal after the break proving to be the difference.

And so, Australia's adventure ride ends with what seems like much optimism for the future, though such things are that significantly harder to predict these days, with so many fast-improving teams jostling for elite position.

For Australia — and most definitely their army of fresh fans — it's still not quite time to think ahead. Because that would mean letting go of this month, this campaign, this journey - which didn't end with victory, but felt like a triumph regardless.

The 'World Cup Tonight' crew reacts to Sweden defeating Australia in the World Cup Third Place Match

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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