Matildas unfazed by perceived England rivalry

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Australia has been swept up in Matildas mania as the team prepares for a first ever Women’s World Cup semifinal.

The second England was confirmed as the Matildas opponent for the match in Sydney on Wednesday, the Australia-England rivalry chatter began. A foundation of Australia’s national identity, the chance to beat England is one many Aussies are looking at with rabid excitement. Throw in the fact that the winner of the match will make it to a World Cup final and its enough to stop hearts.

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While many fans will view this match through the lens of the history of the two nations, and in particular their battles in other sports, the Matildas seem genuinely unfazed by any talk of rivalry.

“I think you see it a lot in the men’s competition especially in cricket and rugby. But for us, we’ve had so many rivalries with other countries that we played against. We’ve played against Brazil at every other World Cup, you could say that about America, you could say that about so many countries. So really for us, it’s just another game,” Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams told media when asked about the specific opponent.

“I think for us Australians are, I don’t want to say unbothered, but we want to go out there and do the job and that’s to play. All the extra stuff of rivalries, it doesn’t really come about,” she said.

While she might not reflect the sentiments of the nation, it does explain the feelings of the team. Australia and England have only met six times in international women’s football with the first meeting happening only 20 years ago in 2003.

Their highest profile meeting came against a Great Britain team, made predominantly of English players, at the Tokyo Olympics where the Matildas won a dramatic quarterfinal, 4-3.

While the Australia-England rivalry would feature highly on many Australians’ power rankings, it’s another country which the Matildas feel a stronger rivalry against.

“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. I think that’s still a major one for us,” midfielder Tameka Yallop explained with a laugh.

“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.

“I just think we’re at that stage in our game and in our mindset that we can beat the best. And we’ve shown it before and it’s all about going out and doing it in this game.”

Much like the Matildas sendoff game against France was repeatedly brought up in the leadup to the quarterfinal, Australia’s clash with England in April will also be a talking point. And much like the match against France, the differences between these games in terms of personnel, formation, and stakes will mean it counts for little.

The Matildas were without Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord in April while the Lionesses won’t have Leah Williamson who did her ACL later that month. The Lionesses have moved to a back three at the World Cup — which was done to accommodate Keria Walsh’s absence — and Mary Fowler and Emily van Egmond are leading the line for the Matildas as false No. 9s following Sam Kerr‘s injury absence.

While the tactical battle on the pitch will be fascinating, the emotional battle will be fought more so in the stands. The Matildas don’t need any extra motivation but will undoubtedly take the fierce support of the nation and use it to their advantage as they have all tournament.

Ultimately beating England isn’t the most important part of beating England for these Matildas.

“If anything it’s to prove a point that we can make the final and represent Australia that way. We’re so proud of our country that we really don’t bother about the other team in that kind of sense,” Williams said.

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