By Emma Kemp
England have thrown down the gauntlet two days before their blockbuster World Cup semi-final, saying they weren’t at their best when beaten by the Matildas in April.
Australia’s 2-0 friendly win in Brentford, where Sam Kerr and Charli Grant scored, is the only defeat on Sarina Wiegman’s 37-match record as England coach.
But Lionesses midfielder Keira Walsh was not ready to say that result would give the tournament co-hosts the mental edge at Stadium Australia on Wednesday night.
“If I put myself in their shoes, not so much,” Walsh said in Terrigal on Monday evening. “It’s a semi-final of a World Cup. It’s a difficult game.
“Obviously they can take some confidence from that game, but we weren’t at our best and I’m sure that they’re aware of that. We’ve changed a lot since then in shape and players.
“The momentum in a World Cup is different. I imagine that they’ll be focused on that.”
Both Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood were missing from that April friendly through injury, but so were Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy.
Another key difference is England’s shift to playing three at the back, shoring up a defence that has proven tough to break down at this tournament (Australia’s defence has been similarly miserly).
Now the European champions are missing captain Leah Williamson, along with forwards Fran Kirby and Beth Mead – all to knee injuries.
But they are still that – European champions – and Walsh, who was part of the triumphant Euro 2022 team, recalled well the groundswell of support that comes with a home crowd.
“It’s amazing for women’s football in Australia to see the amount of support they have got,” she said. “That’s probably a bigger picture to speak about than the tournament itself.
“There’s pressure on both teams. We obviously felt that in the summer, having a home Euros. You can see it as pressure. You can also see it as they’ve got support in the stands, but there’s pressure on both teams.
“We experienced it [in the quarter-final] against Colombia at the weekend. They were really loud. They had some amazing fans, so we’ve experienced that this tournament now.
“They’re a great team – it’s going to be a tough game whether they’re feeling pressure or not. The way they play, they don’t always look like they’re feeling the pressure. They’re very front-footed, and we’ll be ready for that.”
Just like the Matildas did earlier on Monday, Walsh played down the intense public renewal of England’s rivalry with Australia.
When one British journalist asked: “What did you make of the Bairstow stumping?” she replied with “Honestly I didn’t see it”, before looking up at her media manager and adding, “I actually don’t know what he’s talking about.”
“There’s a lot of rivalries in football, I wouldn’t say this is the major one,” she said. “With the cricket and the netball I understand why everyone else feels like that, but for us it’s a semi-final. It’s a massive game. We don’t need to be told about a rivalry and how to get up for a game.
“We’re going to have to bring our best game. Australia have got some great players. They’re playing really well. They’re aggressive, they play a direct style of football. We’re going to have to be on our A game.”
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