By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will look to sign off from a successful Women’s World Cup in style when they bring their “amazing journey” to an end against Sweden in the third-place playoff in Brisbane on Saturday.
A bronze medal will be little consolation for either team after missing out on Sunday’s title-decider but the Matildas are motivated to thank the nation for their massive support throughout the tournament.
“For us, this has probably been the most amazing four weeks of our careers,” Australia captain Sam Kerr told a press conference on Friday.
“The way the country’s got behind the way we’ve been playing, it’s been an amazing journey to be a part of.
“We have one more game but we can really end on a high.”
A bronze medal at Lang Park would break new ground for co-hosts Australia after their maiden trip to the semi-finals.
It would be nothing new for Sweden, though – they already have three in their trophy cabinet, including one from four years ago in France.
Sweden’s staff may have a tougher job in lifting the players after yet another near-miss at a major tournament.
The Swedes were beaten for the Olympic gold medal by Canada at the Tokyo Games and fell at the semi-final hurdle against eventual winners England at last year’s European Championship.
But coach Peter Gerhardsson was in no doubt his team would be fired up for Saturday.
“There’s no lack of motivation or anything. Like I said, the players are in a good condition,” he told reporters.
“The only thing is that we’ve got an opponent on the other side that are also very highly motivated.”
Having prided themselves on keeping clean sheets during the tournament, both teams suffered costly defensive lapses in the semi-finals.
Lax set-piece defending saw Sweden concede a late winner against Spain, while Ellie Carpenter’s failure to clear a long ball helped England to a 3-1 win over Australia.
The Matildas struggled against England without Alanna Kennedy and the centre back will again be absent on Saturday due to concussion symptoms, leaving the hosts with a challenge to handle Sweden’s strong set-piece.
Sweden, meanwhile, will have to deal with Australia’s talismanic striker Kerr, who scored a wonder goal against England but was fuming at herself for not burying other chances.
There are plenty of links between the sides, meaning they are not entirely unfamiliar with each other.
Australia are coached by Swede Tony Gustavsson and a number of the Matildas play their club football in the Scandinavian country.
Australia thrashed Sweden 4-0 in a friendly in Melbourne last year but the Swedes won their last competitive match 1-0 in the Olympic semi-finals.
England offered Sweden a blueprint to beat the counter-punching Matildas in the semi-finals when they shut down their transitions and hammered them with heavy challenges.
With no costly suspensions in play, the threat of yellow cards may do little to discourage physicality on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a physical battle out there tomorrow, for sure,” said Gustavsson.
“And it’s up to the referee to protect the players because neither one of (the teams) are going to shy away.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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