No matter what happened in Wednesday’s semifinal, history was going to be made one way or another inside Stadium Australia.
Neither Australia nor England had ever reached a Women’s World Cup final and it was the latter’s aspirations which were realized in the end.
The Lionesses looked brilliant against the co-host and fully deserved their 3-1 victory, setting up a title-deciding clash against Spain in the process.
Although reaching a World Cup final was new ground for all the England players, it was familiar territory for their head coach.
Sarina Wiegman is a specialist in major tournament success and is now the first coach, male or female, to reach a World Cup final with two different nations having already done so with the Netherlands in 2019.
It’s not just at the World Cup that Wiegman has enjoyed success. The 53-year-old also led the Netherlands and England to European Championships glory in 2017 and 2022 respectively.
When asked how she felt about building on her already remarkable record, Wiegman said it felt like she was “in the middle of a fairytale.”
“I can hardly describe how proud I am of the team, they’ve adapted before the tournament, during the tournament and now in this game again. How we came through and found a way to win again, it’s so incredible,” she told reporters.
“This team has ruthlessness. Whether it’s up front or in defense, we really want to keep the ball out of the net, we really want to win and we stick together and we stick to the plan, and it worked again.”
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Prince William praise
Under Wiegman, the Lionesses have captured the imagination of their nation and the semifinal victory was even given the royal seal of approval.
Prince William, who is president of England’s Football Association, led the celebrations after watching the reigning European champion book its ticket for Sunday’s final.
“What a phenomenal performance from the @Lionesses – on to the final!” William said in a post from Kensington Palace on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Commiserations to @TheMatildas, you’ve played brilliantly and been fantastic co-hosts of this World Cup.”
Sporting royalty also joined in with the celebrations, with former England men’s captain David Beckham sending his praise.
“Amazing achievement, congratulations @lionesses,” he wrote on Instagram.
While England will rightly attract the majority of attention for its record-breaking achievement, the Australian team will be proud of the part it played.
The Matildas have inspired a new generation of soccer fans with their run at the tournament and the players gave all they had against England.
The game will always be remembered for Sam Kerr’s stunning equalizer but also for the atmosphere generated by over 75,000 people inside the stadium.
The crowd was a living, breathing example of what this Australian team has done for soccer in the country.
Almost all the players, from both sides, commentated on the atmosphere as they walked off the pitch.
Australia captain Kerr was particularly dejected after the full-time whistle, but still praised the fans for what they produced inside the stadium.
“We can’t thank the fans enough, they’ve been amazing,” the striker told reporters.
“We felt the love all over the country. Just to see the support we’ve had has really pushed us on. Hopefully, this stays around because this has been amazing for us.”
It was an achievement recognized by one of Australia’s most internationally recognized athletes, Cathy Freeman.
The gold medal-winning athlete herself inspired the nation with her memorable and unifying victory in the 400 meters at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“So incredibly proud of our girls! You gave it everything and inspired an entire nation! Hold your head up high and here’s to the future,” she wrote on X.
While England will play for a maiden World Cup title against La Roja on Sunday, Australia will battle Sweden in the third-place playoff on Saturday.
It’s not the final match that the squad was hoping for, but Australia’s head coach Tony Gustavsson said the team can still look back fondly on its campaign.
“I am proud, but I’m also sad that we could have made them even prouder tonight with a win,” he told reporters after the game.
“I feel for so many tonight when you look at this. The players left it all out there. I think that’s why the fans are thanking them.”
While one nation laments what could have been, another dreams of that which could be – the heartbreak and elation of sport encapsulated in 90 hard-fought minutes in Sydney.