Australia, France view Women's World Cup quarterfinal from different angles
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The French have tried piling the pressure of home expectations onto Australia, relaying the bitter experience of losing as a host nation in a Women’s World Cup quarterfinal and how tough it is to please the crowd.
The Matildas have seen that hand, and they’re raising it. They know tournament hosts failed to advance past the quarterfinals in six of the previous eight Women's World Cups, including France four years ago. But, as France-based Australia defender Ellie Carpenter said, they’re treating all the extra attention as a privilege.
Carpenter on Friday recalled the first time she went to see the Matildas play and there may have been a crowd of 300. On Saturday, the Brisbane stadium will be full to a capacity of around 50,000.
Not only that, but in some of the country's biggest stadiums, the Australia-France quarterfinal will be broadcast live on giant screens for the crowds settling in ahead of Australian rules football AFL matches.
The host broadcaster is delaying the evening news so that there's no interruptions for any Aussies who want to watch the Matildas on free-to-air TV.
“We love the pressure. We turn that into ‘look around — all these people in this stadium are cheering for us,’" Carpenter said. “We don’t take it on as pressure. We take it as ‘look at this, it’s such a privilege being able to play at home.’”
The crowds for Matildas games at the tournament being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand are only limited by the size of the stadiums. Attendance at Australia's opening win over Ireland and the round of 16 win over Denmark at Stadium Australia each exceeded 75,000, even with star striker Sam Kerr on the sidelines.
Before the tournament, Australia's 1-0 win over France in friendly warmup in Melbourne attracted 50,000.
“That’s our 12th player on the field and I cannot stress enough, honestly, throughout the game when you’re going through a tough period and the crowd gets in, it really, really helps us," Carpenter said. "I wouldn’t want to be doing anything (other) than playing that game tomorrow. This is why we play football — it’s for these games.”
Speculation over Kerr's involvement is stretching into a fifth game. She injured her left calf muscle on the eve of the tournament and was a late scratch from the tournament opener on July 20.
Without their captain, the Australians had wins over Ireland and Olympic champion Canada but were upset 3-2 by Nigeria in the group stage. Kerr played a small role as a late substitute in the first knockout game against Denmark.
Head coach Tony Gustavsson said if Kerr was fit enough — and that would be determined by the medical team — she would start the game against fifth-ranked France.
He said that would mean changes to the team's attacking structure, which has featured Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond and Hayley Raso, but it wouldn't bother anyone as they pushed for a first victory in four World Cup quarterfinals.
“I want to be very clear in here now to say if Sam is fit to play 90 minutes, she is starting. There is not even a question and the team knows it," Gustavsson said. "We’re talking about Sam Kerr here.
“Whether she is ready to play 90 minutes plus extra time, that’s to be decided."
France's veteran striker Eugenie Le Sommer has flourished since being recalled to the national squad by Herve Renard. She said the French had played semifinals at the Women's World Cup (2011) and Olympics (2012) and for them the quarterfinal was an important game, but not their most important.
“I don’t think it’s the same as for Australia,” she said in comments translated from French. “They’ve never been in the semifinals. But we have been.”
France overcame a scoreless opening draw against Jamaica and beat Brazil to top its group, and then trounced Morocco in the round of 16.
“Are we on a mission?” Le Sommer said, responding to a question with a question. “Well, we have high goals. We want to leave our mark on this for women’s football. We have ambitions. We want to bring something back to our own country, that’s why it’s important. We want to achieve great things, for sure.”
Renard, who took over the French women's team in March and is the first coach to guide teams to wins in games at both the men's and women's World Cups, said his team was united, spirited and experienced.
“I’m with one of the best women’s football teams in the world,” he said, adding that he told his players to "respect all the opponents but don’t fear anybody."
“We’re not playing against one team, we’re playing against a nation.”
AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup