Australia already captivated a nation as co-hosts of the Women's World Cup. Now there's one more thing to play for, even if it's not the fairytale ending the team had wanted for this tournament.
The Matildas play Sweden on Saturday for third place in Brisbane. Australia lost 3-1 to England in the semifinals on Wednesday, dashing hopes of playing in the title match.
“I know we’ve got the support of everyone, I know that they’re still going to come out to the game against Sweden," midfielder Katrina Gorry said. "I know they’re always going to have our backs, but yeah, it’s just disappointing. You never want to do that on home soil.”
Bars and restaurants were packed around Sydney and there were live watching parties across the country for the semifinal. The sold-out crowd at Stadium Sydney was announced at 75,784, with even more gathered outside.
Australia's men's basketball team, the Boomers, were slated to play a tune-up game against Brazil on Wednesday night in preparation for their World Cup but moved the game up two hours to watch the Matildas in the semifinals.
Despite star Sam Kerr's stunning goal for the hosts, the team couldn't get by England. Even after the disappointing loss, a sign in a shop window on Sydney's George Street read “Thank you Matildas."
“Hopefully this has been life-changing for women’s football in Australia," Kerr said. “I don’t think this was once in a lifetime. If you bring the product to the show, we’ve proven people will come out and support it. Hopefully we’ll get a few new fans that will stick around. Now it is time for funding and all of that stuff to be invested in the game because we’ve shown we can play the game.”
Kerr, one of the best players in the world, struggled with a calf injury at the start of the tournament, but started against England. She was a second-half substitute in the Matildas' shootout victory over France in the quarterfinals.
Sweden was similarly disappointed to once again be out of the running for the title. The Swedes fell 2-1 to Spain on Tuesday night in Auckland.
Sweden, ranked third in the World, has never won a World Cup title. The Swedes were runners-up in 2003 to Germany and they've won the third place match three times, including four years ago in France.
The Swedes were also silver medalists in both the Tokyo Olympics and the Rio Games in 2016.
“I’m tired of crying big tournament tears," Sweden captain Kosovare Asllani said.
The Swedes made a mark on the tournament in the round of 16 when they ended the U.S. team's run toward an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup title. Zecira Musovic had a World Cup record 11 saves and Sweden advanced on penalties after a scoreless draw — sending the Americans home earlier than ever before.
Sweden has some individual achievements to play for in its final match, including the Golden Boot award. Amanda Ilestedt has four goals, just one behind tournament leader Hinata Miyazawa of Japan.
Saturday’s match will be the last for Sweden midfielder Caroline Seger, who has played in five World Cups. She has battled a calf injury throughout the tournament and has played only sparingly.
Seger has appeared in 235 matches for Sweden, most of any player, man or woman. She did not play in the team’s knockout round matches. Should she play on Saturday, it would be her 21st appearance in a World Cup for Sweden, breaking former goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl’s record.
For both teams there's also financial incentive.
At this World Cup, FIFA designated individual bonuses for the players out of the prize money pool. Each player in the tournament earned a base of $30,000, which grew as their teams progressed. Players on the third-place winning team will be due $185,000.
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup
Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press