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England boss Sarina Wiegman believes simply nullifying the threat posed by Australia striker Sam Kerr will not be enough to see the Lionesses through to a first-ever World Cup final.
The European champions take on the Matildas in their semi-final tonight at 11 am BST at Sydney’s sold-out Stadium Australia, where the majority of the 75,000 in attendance will be backing the co-hosts.
Captain Kerr is her country’s leading goal-scorer of either gender, but has not yet started a match in the global showpiece after injuring her calf pre-tournament, making her much-anticipated return as a substitute in Australia’s 2-0 last-16 victory over Denmark.
Though the Chelsea forward is, at least in Australia, the poster-woman for this tournament, Wiegman insisted: “Australia is not just Sam Kerr. Yes, we have a plan [if she starts]. She can play and she can start on the bench, so that’s the situation. Of course she is a threat, she’s a very good player, so a lot of respect [to her].
“But there is more than Sam Kerr, because at the end it is always a team performance. When the team does really well an individual can do even better. That’s the same for Australia and it’s the same for England.
“There is a lot of pressure on her because everyone expects things from her. I think Australia have grown in the tournament too, they had some difficult situations they had to come back from and they did really well. We expect a very strong Australia tomorrow.”
The winner of Wednesday night’s contest will take on Spain for the trophy, after they beat Sweden 2-1 on Tuesday to book their trip to the final.
Kerr’s calf was arguably the most talked-about calf in Australian history when it was announced she would miss the first two matches of the Matildas’ World Cup campaign, and speculation has swirled about her fitness ever since.
The 29-year-old declared she would be available for Australia’s final group stage contest against Canada but remained on the bench, before appearing to a raucous reception for the first time in the 80th minute against Denmark.
She featured more in her side’s quarter-final against France, coming on for Emily van Egmond in the 55th minute and scoring one of the penalties that would see Australia win a 7-6 shootout and advance to the final four for the first time.
England captain Millie Bright, Kerr’s club team-mate at Women’s Super League champions Chelsea, echoed her manager’s assessment, adding: “I think everyone knows [Sam] pretty well. On the worldwide stage, I think she’s made a name for herself.
“It’s pretty hard not to know Sam and her abilities, but like Sarina said there’s other players in the team. I think we’re prepared to play against Australia as a team.”
Those other players have stepped up considerably in their skipper’s absence. Mary Fowler and Hayley Raso – who has netted three times this tournament – are emerging alongside Kerr as new household names Down Under.
It remains to be seen if Kerr will make her first World Cup start against England, or if Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson will once again use her as a talismanic threat off the bench – either way, Wiegman insists England have a plan.
Gustavsson perhaps hinted at the latter in his press conference on the eve of their historic encounter, where one side will become a World Cup finalist for the first time,
The Swedish boss said: “We’ll look at all of this trying to start as strong as possible, but finish even stronger. Meaning, what kind of starting line-up do we want to have, what finishing 11 do we want to have?
“What kind of tools and game-changing do we think we need in a game like this? Type of players, whether it’s speed or aerial presence. There will be some tough decisions to be made because a lot of players deserve to start, but a lot of players also deserve to finish the game and win it for us.”
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