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Best of frenemies
A picture of the British flag sits in the upper-left corner of the Australian one. New South Wales, an Australian state that will host Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal between Australia and England, was founded as a British penal colony in 1788. King Charles III is technically Australia’s head of state.
Australia and England are a pair of places inexorably linked through shared history, language, and culture.
So naturally, they want to beat the pants off each other on the pitch.
Wednesday’s game, which kicks off at 6 a.m. ET, is a blockbuster dream matchup that will ratchet up the pressure for both teams. England is the defending European champion, desperate to win the nation’s first World Cup since 1966, when the men brought the trophy home to the birthplace of the world’s most popular game.
Australia, meanwhile, will enter the pitch with nothing but positive momentum. The host country is coming off a dramatic 10-round penalty-shot victory over France in the quarterfinals and has its best player, Sam Kerr, back in the lineup after she missed the tournament’s first three games with a calf injury. The Matildas, as the Aussie women’s team is known, have brought even more exuberance and joy to a nation already plenty passionate about its sports. Australia wants nothing more than to keep this party going.
After England came back from a one-goal deficit on Saturday to defeat Colombia 2-1 in the quarterfinals, Lioness coach Sarina Wiegman, who is from the Netherlands, was asked if she’d be taking a crash course in the Australia-England rivalry.
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“I just think it’s going to be really big,” said Wiegman. “But now I’ve had a couple of questions about that so it’s probably going to be bigger than I imagined.”
The two teams last met in April, at a friendly in London. Australia ended England’s 30-match unbeaten streak with a 2-0 victory. At the Tokyo Olympics, the Matildas also beat Great Britain—predominately made up of English players—4-3 in the quarterfinals.
A decade ago, the Guardian published an in-depth guide to the England vs Australia rivalry, which spans across numerous sports, including cricket and rugby. The outlet claimed that the rivalry is guided by “six rules,” including: “brutality is an inevitability,” “eccentricity is a quality to embrace,” and my personal favorite, “defection and affection is common in later life.” (Awwww.)
The actual participants in the Australian-England semi are playing down the rivalry, which isn’t too surprising. Athletes are prone to tamping down outside noise.
"I think sort of the biggest internal rivalry is probably New Zealand still. That's always been our sort of ‘we cannot lose to them and we will not lose to them’," said Australia midfielder Tameka Yallop.
"But I think within the team right now, our mindset is to be the best, you've got to beat the best. So for us, England are right up there and so are the other teams in the semifinals as well.”
England and Australia faced each other in a cricket series, known as The Ashes, this summer, and Australia defeated England in the women’s Netball World Cup final earlier in the month.
"I wouldn't say this is a major rivalry in football,” England’s Keira Walsh said on Sunday.
Bollocks. That changes on Wednesday.
The philosophy of Peter
Only one team remaining at this World Cup has reached a final before: Sweden, the 2003 runner-up, who in the round of 16 and quarterfinal down under has knocked out the champs of the three previous World Cups, the United States (2015 and 2019) and Japan (2011). Sweden faces Spain on Tuesday at 4 a.m. ET in Auckland; Las Roja are playing in their first-ever World Cup semi.
What has he learned from Rosa? “As a human being, know everything,” Gerhardsson said. “It’s not exciting. And that’s why football is so exciting. Because you never know. As a coach, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can prepare. You can know things. And that’s why football is interesting. For everybody. It’s the greatest sport in the world.”
Moments later, Gerhardsson tried to leave his press conference through a utility closet, before realizing his error and exiting through the proper door.
I don’t totally understand what Gerhardsson is saying or what this all means. But I admire the guy’s vibe. Sweden will be ready.
Letter from a local
TIME’s Yasmeen Serhan sends this dispatch from London after watching England knock off Colombia 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Women’s soccer hasn’t always been so popular in Britain, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it by the crowds turning up at pubs for early World Cup matches. On Saturday morning, I arrived at my North London local to find the pub’s front room packed with people who, like me, were hoping to catch a glimpse of what would end up being England’s quarter-final victory over Colombia. As I pushed through the crowd toward a lone seat closest to the screen, I noticed that there were a lot more women than there probably would be on any other given match day. But there were also plenty of men—an indication, perhaps, of just how much women’s soccer fandom has grown in recent years.
One pub goer, a 26-year-old guy from Southampton, told me that he’s been waking up early to catch all of England’s matches this World Cup. But he admits that he wasn't always a follower of the women’s game. Like so many men and women I spoke with, his interest piqued during last year’s European Championships, which the England women’s team won on their home turf at Wembley Stadium in extra time. It was a huge moment not just for women’s soccer, but for the whole of England, which hadn’t experienced a major trophy win in over half a century.
Of course, not everyone at the pub was a devout women’s soccer fan. Another pub goer sheepishly admitted that he was actually there to watch another match (local Arsenal playing Nottingham Forest). Still, he said he felt like he was following the World Cup—in large part because, unlike previous tournaments, this one feels impossible to ignore. Whether it’s headlining on Sky Sports or being broadcast at the pub, women’s soccer is everywhere like never before. And if England fans are lucky, it may even once again come home.
The backup goalkeeper who might win the World Cup for Sweden. (WSJ)
Why wouldn’t Spain be nervous before this game? (AP)
Why England must avoid sloppy mistakes if the Lionesses hope to win a first World Cup. (Guardian)
Emerging England star Lauren James will not play in the semifinal, after FIFA gave her a two-game suspension for stepping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in the round of 16. She’ll be available for the Aug. 20 final, should England advance.
I argued that James should just miss one game, and be available for this semi. My case either did not reach the upper echelons of FIFA—shocking, I know—or was summarily dismissed. Ah well. At least FIFA compromised a little bit, and did not hand the most draconian penalty possible and kick James out for the rest of the tournament.
The Matildas, however, plan on ending James’ World Cup anyway.
This game on Wednesday should be a beauty.
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