FIFA Women's World Cup
Underdog Australia counting on home crowd vs. England: 'They're going to be vital'
FIFA Women's World Cup

Underdog Australia counting on home crowd vs. England: 'They're going to be vital'

Updated Aug. 16, 2023 5:06 a.m. ET

Tony Gustavsson knows as well as anyone how the teams stack up in a side-by-side comparison.

Australia's coach acknowledges England has more players with more impressive résumés than his Matildas can boast. He understands that England's Football Association devotes more money to the Lionesses than Australia's does to all of its national teams combined. 

Gustavsson can probably also guess which country is the oddsmakers' pick to win Wednesday's marquee Women's World Cup semifinal (coverage begins at 5 a.m. ET with kickoff at 6 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) between the two sides in Sydney.

Hint: It isn't his.


"If you look at rankings, they're favorites," Gustavsson said at his pre-match news conference on the eve of the game. "If you look at where their players play, they have starting players in top clubs in top leagues all over the world. Not just 11 — they have like 15, 16 — and then you compare that to us, we have bench players on those teams.

"So, if you look at all that and you look at resources financially, obviously they are a massive favorite going into this game," the Swedish-born manager continued. "But the one thing that we have that they don't have is the support and the belief from the fans. And that itself is going to be massive."

The fans have been massive for Australia already. By beating France in a thrilling penalty shootout — the 10-round tiebreaker was the longest in women's or men's World Cup history — in the quarterfinals, the Matildas became the first host nation to reach the final four since the United States in 2003. (The Americans' triumph four years earlier remains the only time any nation has won a Women's World Cup on home soil.)

"You are a part of this win" — Australia coach Tony Gustavsson to the fans

Faced with the chance to make history, the Australian public has gotten behind Gustavsson's side en masse. The drama versus Les Bleues was watched by the country's largest television audience in more than a decade. The 80,000-seat Stadium Australia will be packed to the rafters Wednesday, with the overwhelming majority of supporters clad in their heroes' yellow and green. 

[Downplay it all they might, Australia and England have a rich sporting rivalry]

"The legacy that we wanted to leave throughout the World Cup [was] to inspire the generation coming through," Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold said Tuesday. "I think we've done more than what we thought that we would accomplish. Obviously, we're not done yet."

Defeat Wednesday would change that, though, which is why the remaining co-host — New Zealand was eliminated in the group stage — is so determined to keep the good times rolling as long as possible. 

As much as the victory over France was a watershed moment for the program, for women's soccer and for sports in general in Australia, it's over now. The focus must be on the formidable challenge that lies in front of them. That message seems to have been received. 

Kate Gill on Australia advancing: "I'm so proud of what they're doing for women's football"

"They're on a mission," Gustavsson said of his team.

"The players have done a phenomenal job to come down from the emotional highs of the quarterfinal. The keywords [were] reset and recover. I think they've done that well."

It hasn't been easy, though — not with a white-hot spotlight suddenly upon them. "It's just been an absolute whirlwind," Arnold said. "Probably the first time I've received attention like that, but at the same time, I just tend to block it out because I know, to be honest, if I play like s--- tomorrow, it could be a whole different attention on me."

While Arnold is a lock in the net, Gustavsson insisted Tuesday he hadn't yet decided if star forward Sam Kerr will start the match or enter as a substitute to finish it, as she has the last two games.

[Can Sam Kerr play full semifinal for Australia? 'That's like the million-dollar question']

"She pushed through more minutes than we hoped for, to be honest," the coach said of Kerr. "One of the reasons why we kept her on the bench was that we were uncertain how many minutes she had coming back from that calf injury, but also the limited training. The way she pushed through was fantastic and impressive, both from a mental and physical aspect. She recovered well. She trained today. So she's available."

Alexi Lalas reacts to Mackenzie Arnold's unreal penalty shootout performance

However Gustavsson deploys her, Kerr will no doubt play a major role. So will 25 million other Australians if the Matildas are to pull off the upset and reach Sunday's title bout.

"The amount of support that we have from all over the country has been absolutely unreal," Arnold said of the fans. "I really do believe they've gotten us over the line more times than one.

"They're going to be vital for us."

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
FIFA Women's World Cup

Get more from FIFA Women's World Cup Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more