Since 2015, England have reached the semi-final stage of every major tournament they have competed in – the only nation in the last four of the World Cup in 2015, 2019 and 2023 – setting a new standard for the Lionesses to be held to.
The Lionesses have never made it to the final on the global stage, falling against Japan in 2015 and the United States in 2019, going on to finish third and fourth respectively. In 2023, Australia are England’s semi-final opponents, having never got this far before ever. But the improving Matildas, on home soil, will undoubtedly be the summer’s toughest test yet.
Perennial quarter-finalists, Australia have stormed to recognition in the past 12 months. Finishing top of their group and defeating Denmark and European giants France to make it to the clash with England, the team’s recent history will make this a match not to be missed.
After winning their quarter-final against Colombia, already knowing a victory would lead them to face Australia in the next round, Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman said, “We’re really looking forward to it. Of course we played Australia in April, so we know them.”
That April encounter on a wet night in Brentford, when goals were two goals without reply were scored by Sam Kerr and Charlotte Grant, remains the only time that England have lost in 37 official matches under Wiegman since September 2021.
Contests between the two sides have generally been pretty evenly matched. From 2011 to 2023, the five games have finished with two wins for each and one draw. But with April and the end of an outstanding 30-game unbeaten streak to avenge, England have a point to prove.
Kerr, who has been absent from Australia’s starting XI due to an injury suffered on the eve of the tournament, is be only one battle that England need to win win, not to mention the added difficulty of playing in a partisan Sydney in front of a possible 80,000 fans in gold and green. It was hostile enough in the quarter-finals for an England side who grew used to home support at Euro 2022 last summer.
“It was like a home game for Colombia, I think. We expect a similar crowd for Australia – that is incredible,” Wiegman said when asked about playing Australia at home.
England have rarely played an away game since Wiegman’s tenure began in 2021. The ones they have faced have been at smaller European nations where the travelling Lionesses brigade has often dominated drowned the likes of the Austria or Northern Ireland fanbases.
Facing Colombia in the quarter-finals was probably the first time for many of the current Lionesses that they have played in front of a roaring international crowd that was not cheering for their success, but rather booing their possession and time on the ball.
“I think the atmosphere is going to be amazing,” Bethany England said, reflecting on Wednesay’s semi-final. “I thought the crowd [against Colombia] was incredible. Every time we touched the ball, they were booing, but I think you relish it because these are the atmosphere you want from stadiums.
“74,000 and the Australian fans are going to bring a nice big bit of noise through. It’s going to be interesting and entertaining for everyone.”
Heading into the last four, Australian support will likely drown out the cheers for the Europeans.
“I don’t think you can’t look forward to that game: playing the host nation in the semi-final of a World Cup,” said England skipper Millie Bright. “I think we’ve spoke about it a lot; this is the biggest tournament in the women’s game to date, so what a game to be a part of.”
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England continued: “We’ve been in this situation where we’ve had a lot of noise The Euros last year at Old Trafford…Wembley. It’s nothing these girls aren’t used to now. We are getting it more and more in the women’s game. Selling out, getting big crowds, and not being able to think. So it’s just going to be an exciting and special game.”
The crowd is only one consideration Wiegman will have to make ahead of the clash. Her formation will be hot on the list of things to work out during the short four-day turnaround before the game.
During two knockout games, the only two goals scored, both coming against Colombia, were opportunities capitalised on from errors in the South American defence. During England’s first 180 minutes at this tournament, the only goal scored in open play came courtesy of a Lauren James wonder strike against Denmark.
Both of these factors are worries for the Lionesses as England’s lack of creativity and inability to be clinical in front of goal has led to multiple chances going begging throughout their five games so far.
The Lionesses will still be facing their semi-final without James, who has been dubbed ‘cheat code’ by teammates for her impressive ball skills and finishing ability. Serving a two-game suspension for a red card against Nigeria, James will miss out on a chance to go head-to-head with her Chelsea teammate Kerr. But defenders Millie Bright and Jess Carter will get the opportunity to block the runs that the striker could look to make to send her side into the final.
The other key talking point will be what formation Wiegman will operate, swithching up slightly from 3-4-1-2 to 3-5-2 for the quarter-finals, compared to the 4-3-3 she religiously stuck to at Euro 2022. Defence has arguably been England’s best area on the pitch so far in the tournament, yet against such a strong and calculated attack that Australia they may have to think again.