The key questions ahead of England’s World Cup semi-final against Australia

By Sports Desk August 13, 2023

England advanced to the World Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 comeback victory over Colombia, and will play tournament co-hosts Australia in Sydney on Wednesday night.

Here, the PA news agency breaks down some of the key questions ahead of The Lionesses’ meeting with the Matildas.

How did they get here?

England secured victories over Haiti, Denmark and China to reach the knockouts, scoring multiple times in a group stage contest just once with a 6-1 triumph over China.

The Lionesses next faced Nigeria in the last-16, who held them to 120 goalless minutes before England booked their quarter-final place with a 4-2 win on penalties.

England conceded for just the second time this tournament late in the first half of the quarter-final clash with Colombia at Sydney’s sold-out Stadium Australia, but they were level by the break thanks to Lauren Hemp’s alert stoppage-time effort and Alessia Russo completed the comeback after the  break.

What is England’s history in World Cup semi-finals?

The Lionesses’ first appearance in the final four, eight years ago in Canada, ended in heartbreak.

England were up against defending champions Japan, who took the lead through captain Aya Miyama’s 32nd-minute opener but saw it cancelled out by Fara Williams after just seven minutes.

The 1-1 draw looked destined for extra time until Laura Bassett directed a clearance into her own net in the first minute of second-half stoppage time and broke down in tears while Japan celebrated their last-gasp luck.

England ultimately beat Germany 1-0 through Williams’ extra-time penalty in the third-place playoff – still their best-ever finish in a global showpiece.

Four years later, the Lionesses beat Norway 3-0 in the last eight in France to set up a semi-final with the United States, who beat England 2-1 en route to defending their 2015 title.

The Lionesses finished fourth overall after losing 2-1 to Sweden in the play-off.

How good are Australia?

The Matildas are 10th in FIFA’s global rankings, six places below England, but can boast they are the only team to have beaten the Lionesses since boss Sarina Wiegman took the helm in September 2021.

That victory came in April, when Sam Kerr and Charlotte Grant both scored at Brentford to snap Wiegman’s 30-game unbeaten streak as England manager with a 2-0 victory.

Captain Kerr was unavailable for her side’s first two World Cup matches with a calf injury, yet the talismanic Chelsea striker’s absence might have actually benefitted the Matildas in the long run as others were asked to step up, with Hayley Raso and Mary Fowler among those who emphatically answered the call for the co-hosts.

Kerr returned as a late second-half substitute in her side’s 2-0 victory over Denmark in the last 16, five days before the Matildas sealed their first-ever trip to a semi-final by beating France in the longest penalty shootout in Women’s World Cup history.

Long gone are the days Australians feared their side could be knocked out at the group stage. Momentum – and an increasingly enraptured nation – are firmly on their side.

What is the biggest challenge facing England?

England will have to cope without star forward Lauren James as she serves the final game of a two-match suspension for stepping on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie.

She was replaced by Ella Toone against Colombia, who after the match said: “She’s been amazing for us, but I’ve got to believe in myself and I’ve got to have that confidence going onto the pitch. I don’t let anything get me down, I don’t put that pressure on myself and I know my team-mates don’t either.”

How will England cope with the crowd?

Stadium Australia boasts more than 75,000 seats, most of which will be occupied by the home support.

That does not faze England captain Millie Bright, who said: “For me, no matter who the fans are, you’re actually quite proud of it as well, we want that in a World Cup, we want it to be people turning on the TV and saying ‘god, look at the crowd, it’s incredible’.

“As a player you feel that and you use it to your advantage as well, it’s not a disadvantage that there might be a lot of Australia fans there. “

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    Arne Slot should block out any noise around trying to catch Manchester City and instead set his sights on compiling 90 points in his first season in charge of Liverpool.

    That is the view of former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, who believes securing Champions League football should be seen as the minimum requirement for former Feyenoord boss Slot, who is replacing Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.

    While Klopp lifted the EFL Cup in his final campaign as manager, James feels it is very difficult for Premier League teams to set any targets relating to any silverware due to the consistent dominance of City under Pep Guardiola.

    City have won an unprecedented four straight Premier League titles and will face rivals Manchester United this weekend at Wembley in an attempt to win back-to-back FA Cup crowns. Guardiola also has four EFL Cup trophies to his name.

    James feels Slot should therefore focus only on what he can control and believes 90 points is an aspirational target that will at least put the Reds in contention.

    Liverpool made it to 82 points in 2023-24, which saw them finish nine behind Man City and seven adrift of second-placed Arsenal.

    That tally was comfortably enough to seal a return to the Champions League for next season, a status which James says Slot must ensure he maintains.

    "As we have seen under Jurgen Klopp, the fantastic manager, there are teams around in the Premier League who don't really care what you think you want to do, namely Manchester City," James said to Stats Perform when asked what Slot's minimum target should be.

    "There could invariably be a situation where whatever it is, such as if Pep decides it is his last season, then it might be fairytale stuff again, that he goes for the quadruple and he does it.

    "Then it doesn't matter [what your targets are], no one wins anything domestically. 

    "The minimum requirement, which Pep can't stop you from doing, has to be qualifying for the Champions League of course. But beyond that, I think it's just getting the performances. 

    "If you get 90 points, and I know this has happened to Liverpool and they have got records to prove it, but if you get 90 points or even more and still don't win the league, then it's not down to you doing something wrong, it's down to the excellence of whoever finishes above you. 

    "I would say minimum Champions League qualification and then just going for 90 points and see where it takes you. As I say, 90 points is the benchmark in the Premier League.

    "You know, it isn't that difficult to achieve when you think about it. You can literally lose to the four best teams, again subjectively, four best teams, home and away, and as long as you beat the others, the other 30 games, that's 90 points.

    "Who cares [which teams you beat]? You don't get an extra three points for beating the teams above you. It's just winning."

    James expects to see plenty of movement in the transfer window now that there have been substantial changes to the staff, but says Slot and his coaching team may not always get their own way.

    He added: "I do [expect a lot of movement]. There are a couple of things to say. The analysis department will have their numbers, they'll know who they need to keep, they'll know who they need to replace and obviously they'll know who they need or want to bring in. 

    "This wasn't just about Jurgen leaving, this was the whole staff going. This is a massive shift, and everybody [left at the club] has their opinion [on the squad], even the analysis guys.

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    "The conversation with Slot will be a whole room of [new] opinions added to a data analysis group [trying] to find replacements because some of the players are leaving. 

    "With transfers I think it will cause a little bit of a ruffle. It will be done for the right reasons but I don't think there'll be a situation where Slot will just bring the ones he likes in. 

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    Wirtz was named Bundesliga Player of the Year earlier this week, having scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists throughout the campaign. He has also been involved in eight goals (four goals, four assists) and created 28 chances from open play in the Europa League this term.

    That form has reportedly put the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United on alert, but Leverkusen are not entertaining a sale.

    "He will stay. His father and agent said it before. He has a contract here and he's really happy," Rolfes told Sky Sports.

    "This is the right place for him to develop as a player and person. His future is bright, that's for sure. He is such a good player and shows a great will to win and to work. 

    "It's not normally the attribute of a number 10 but he combines talent with the work rate of a six or a defensive player along with producing special magic moments."

    When Bayern Munich last failed to win the Bundesliga title in 2012, they responded by raiding rivals Borussia Dortmund for the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels over the next few years.

    Asked if Leverkusen had any concerns about that happening to them, Rolfes said: "For sure 10, 15 or 20 years ago that was a normal thing but things are changing. The European environment has changed a lot. 

    "It's an international market now with the Premier League, and clubs in Spain, Italy and France as well."

    Bayern were, alongside Liverpool, unsuccessful in attempting to lure Alonso away from Westphalia, and Rolfes says he was always convinced the Spaniard would stay.

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  • 'Maybe we can change that' - De Roon believes Atalanta can end Leverkusen unbeaten run 'Maybe we can change that' - De Roon believes Atalanta can end Leverkusen unbeaten run

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    De Roon will not be available for La Dea in Dublin on Wednesday due to injury but has joined up with the squad to offer his support.

    Atalanta have had a memorable campaign, reaching their first European final and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

    Leverkusen, meanwhile, claimed their first-ever Bundesliga title without losing a single game and are aiming to complete a treble.

    Despite coming up against a tough opponent, De Roon is confident that his side will be able to end their 61-year drought without a major trophy.

    "Every team is beatable. At the moment, [Leverkusen] seem unbeatable, but maybe we are the ones who can change that," he said in the pre-match press conference.

    "We have to believe in our philosophy, play attacking football and try to beat them. You don't win a trophy if you don't beat the best.

    "We have had a great campaign, and we fully deserve to be here. Both sides deserve to be playing this final. Let's see who will manage to lift the trophy.

    Atalanta narrowly missed out in the Coppa Italia final to Juventus earlier this month, and Gian Piero Gasperini is now preparing to manage his first-ever European final.

    The Italian praised Leverkusen but stressed the belief he has in his own team after an impressive campaign.

    He said: "We are aware that we are facing a great team. We know that they are undefeated, and we know that they have had an amazing season.

    "Our journey, however, was also very good as we beat very strong teams to reach the final, and we also have belief.

    "Leverkusen are a complete team; extremely organised. They are versatile, they can defend and recover the ball well.

    "The results they have achieved this season are not an accident. Certainly, small details can make the difference in a final. We have to respect them and try to adapt quickly to the opponents we are facing."

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