‘Just another game’: Matildas play down rivalry with England’s Lionesses

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If you’re expecting the Women’s World Cup semi-final between Australia and England to be tinged with a hint of Ashes antagonism, or influenced by the Diamonds’ netball war with the Roses, or for the ghost of Jonny Wilkinson to hover over the ground where he drove a dagger through the Wallabies’ hearts, or even for the Lionesses to seek revenge on behalf of Rio Ferdinand for being burnt by Harry Kewell at Upton Park all those years ago … well, Lydia Williams has some bad news for you.

“It’s just another game,” the Matildas longest-serving player said.

Lydia Williams tried her best to shut down any questions on the Matildas’ perceived rivalry with England.Credit: Wolter Peeters

Not just once, but three times in her press conference on Monday, in a room half-full of English journos trying to bait her.

Is this really a rivalry? It is for everyone else – but for the players who’ll actually take part in Wednesday night’s clash at Stadium Australia, it’s certainly not their biggest.

And you might be surprised by what is.

“The biggest internal rivalry is probably New Zealand, still,” said midfielder Tameka Yallop.

Australia’s biggest rivalry? It’s not England, Tameka Yallop says.Credit: Wolter Peeters.

“That’s always been our sort of, ‘We cannot lose to them, and we will not lose to them.’ That’s still a major one for us.”

That is not meant as disrespect. The Matildas have bucketloads of that for England, the reigning European champions and the world’s No.4-ranked team, according to FIFA – a team full of players they all know well, and who they also recently beat in a breakthrough 2-0 friendly victory in April, which is the only one the Lionesses have suffered under coach Sarina Wiegman.

They just aren’t buying what everyone outside their bubble is selling.

“You see it in a lot of the men’s competitions – especially in cricket and rugby – but for us, we’ve had so many rivalries with other countries,” Williams said.

Australia beat England 2-0 when they met in a friendly in April.Credit: Getty

“We’ve played against Brazil at every other World Cup. You could say that about America, you could say it about so many countries. Really, for us, it’s just another game.

“I don’t want to say we’re unbothered – we want to go out there and do the job. All the extra stuff of rivalries, it doesn’t really come about. If anything [it’s] to prove a point that we can make the final and represent Australia that way.”

Ten members of the Matildas’ 23-player squad play their football in the FA Women’s Super League. Two others, Hayley Raso and Kyah Simon, did too until the expiry of their contracts just a few weeks ago – and another two, Yallop and Emily van Egmond, played there a few years back.

And yet, all that familiarity has not bred even a hint of contempt – at least on the Australian side of the fence.

“There’s quite a few that would be [from] City, Arsenal, Manchester,” said Williams, who plays her club football for Brighton and Hove Albion, and previously at the Gunners with Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord.

“It’s almost like when we were playing each other in the W-League – we all knew each other, but then when you come together as a national team, you know [what makes] each other tick and everything. I guess it’s similar. We play against them, we know what their tendencies are, versing them week-in, week-out and watching them. It’s more of a chess match.

“A few of us know a lot of people from the French team. It’s about playing your friends and teammates or rivals in other clubs and other countries.

“Yeah, it’s a significant game – obviously we’re in the semi-final – but it’s just another opponent for us.”

Williams, at least, is more interested in who she’s playing for, rather than who the Matildas will be playing against.

“Everyone that you hear that isn’t Australian that comes here, they just fall in love with the surroundings, environment, the people,” she said. “And we get to live it and grow up with it.

“When you get to travel around to different places, you just realise how lucky we are with everything that we have here … you just get really proud to be an Aussie.

“We are really proud of how all of us have grown up together through different teams and organisations and how we’ve developed as a group. It’s not just the jersey, it’s the feeling of family when we go out there.”

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