Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson gave England the edge over Australia in terms of overall women’s football development in his remarks to the media the day before the Matildas’ semifinal match against England.
Both Gustavsson and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold were asked repeatedly about Australia and England being a rivalry, but neither particularly agreed with that assessment given that Australia and England haven’t actually matched up all that frequently in important tournament games. England and Australia have never met in a World Cup knockout game before, although Australia did knock out Team GB from the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics.
“Obviously there’s a massive rivalry between Australia and England with sports all over the place,” said Arnold. “And that’s obviously going to be no different tomorrow, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of rivalries in football with Brazil, USA, New Zealand. So I think tomorrow is going to be another just another game and like Tony said, we’re trying to focus on one game at a time and really focus on ourselves and our own game plan rather than getting caught up in a rivalry.”
However, Gustavsson also pointed out the multitude of ways that he thought England should be the favorite to win this clash, claiming that the England women’s budget “was the same budget as all national teams in (Australia’s) FA.”
“In terms of who’s the favorites, I think I’ll leave it to you guys to speculate and write about that,” Gustavsson said, then promptly launched into a laundry list of ways in which England had a more developed program.
“If you look at (FIFA) rankings, they’re favorites. If you look at where their players play, they have starting players in top clubs and top leagues all over the world. Not just 11. They have like 15, 16, and then you compare to us, we have bench players on those teams.
“We have players playing in (Australia’s) A-League, we have players playing in mid-table teams in Sweden. So if we look at all that and we look at resources financially, obviously they are a massive favorite going into this game…. 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 tomorrow.”
Arnold also complimented England’s WSL, where 11 out of the 23 players on the World Cup squad play club soccer, including Arnold herself, as well as key players like Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, and Hayley Raso.
“I think all of us that play over in that league, we can just say it’s a different world, coming from the (Australian A-League),” said Arnold. “It’s just the amount of professionalism and the talent that they have over there, and the amount of time that they put into their clubs and players, it just really shows (in) the progress, both of them individually and the game as a whole.”
Gustavsson said that, ultimately, the Matildas were prepared to adapt to England’s game, no matter the formation.
“We got a good transition game going but I also know that England learned a lot from that (April 2023 friendly). If you saw England playing Nigeria for example, that is also a very, very good transition team. England played much more direct than they normally do.
“So I think they have evolved and adjusted their game plan a little bit so they’re not just possession based, especially if they choose to play with their back three and two nines that (are) willing to running behind. You can see that they play much more direct. It’ll be an interesting tactical game in that sense, because is England gonna stay true to their possession game, or are they going to take away our transition game by playing a different style of football than they normally do and adjusting in that sense?
“We’ve prepped for both. We’ve prepped for both systems that they can play, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. And we’ve also played three different systems in this World Cup so we might be flexible and do something different as well.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
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