IAN HERBERT: Has Sarina Wiegman met her match in ‘David Brent’? It’s chalk and cheese as Mrs Cool collides with bonkers Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson in World Cup semi-final
- Australia and England are set to do battle in the semis of the Women’s World Cup
- The clash will see Sarina Wiegman and Tony Gustavsson go head-to-head
- WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 1 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show
It was strictly Pom and Aussie business 20 years ago, when Eddie Jones and Sir Clive Woodward sent teams of their compatriots into the rugby World Cup final. In the same stadium today, it’s a curious coaching collision of Swede v Dutch. Chalk and cheese, you have to say.
The theatre of the pre-match press conference can sometimes seem a serious inconvenience to Sarina Wiegman, who towards the end of a half-hour’s talk yesterday seemed startled to be asked if the eve of a World Cup semi-final was a moment to ‘soak up the joy’.
She left her captain, Millie Bright, to answer, before the question stubbornly bounced back to her. ‘You want me to…?’ she said, eventually declaring: ‘When we win, I enjoy it a lot.’
Her Swedish opposite number, Tony Gustavsson, was the one having all the fun, lobbing in a few grenades about the English women’s football team receiving more funding than Australian football in its entirety.
Then revealing two English players had been successfully targeted in Australia’s 2-0 friendly win over Wiegman’s team in April.
Sarina Wiegman’s England side are set to take on Australia in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals
Wiegman will come up against Australia’s Swedish coach Tony Gustavsson (pictured)
The Lionesses on Tuesday were preparing for the match at Stadium Australia in Sydney
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One of the pair is thought to be defender Jess Carter, whom the Matildas repeatedly isolated as winger Hayley Raso gave her a rough time down the right flank.
There was something equally carefree about Gustavsson’s goalkeeper, Mackenzie Arnold, who was asked about Australian streets being named after her.
‘I’ve had to block it out because I know if I play like s**t tomorrow it could be a whole different response,’ she said. You gave thanks for someone to dispense with the usual caution of these stage-managed events.
There’s definitely something of the David Brent about Gustavsson, who was a game away from the sack 17 days ago when Australia played Canada.
Wiegman momentarily seemed to let some emotion out when the notion of Australia’s biggest threat came up.
‘Australia are not just Sam Kerr,’ she retorted. But her half-hour or so in the cameras’ glare was very different from her predecessor Phil Neville, who could be self-deprecating, inspiring, emotional, unintentionally comedic and expended a lot of energy at moments like this.
‘Grab it with both arms, both legs, all your body,’ was his message to the team before the semi-final against the United States four years ago.
The 53-year-old’s cool, rational management and reluctance to deliver a soliloquy when a sentence will do seems applicable now. From the first day they worked with her, Wiegman’s England players were struck by her insistence they have the brains to decide what to do with the ball.
‘She has a thing where the player on the ball is the one who makes the decision and you’re in control,’ Bright said last summer.
‘That’s one thing I’ve loved about her coming in. You don’t feel pressured to play a certain pass. If it’s wrong, you make a better decision next time. It gives me confidence.’
Millie Bright (left) and Wiegman (right) have been speaking ahead of the huge clash
Wiegman also spoke on their opponents and said that ‘Australia are not just Sam Kerr’ (middle)
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This was a point Wiegman reinforced in the most expansive moment of her press conference. ‘The players make their own decisions and adapt to any situation,’ she said. ‘Of course, things will go wrong but that happens. You just take the next action.’
The tension continued to ratchet up here last night. Aussie cricketer David Warner weighed in with a dig over the ball change in the fifth Ashes test at the Oval. ‘Just keep an eye out in case the Poms ask to change the ball,’ he tweeted.
The nation’s Daily Telegraph sent a helicopter into enemy territory. ‘If England’s Lionesses thought they would happily fly into the World Cup semi-final under the radar they were in for a rude shock,’ it stated. ‘We’ve sent the chopper up to see how the old enemy are preparing.’
Gustavsson basked in the attention. Wiegman rose above it. ‘We are ready,’ she said. ‘You just focus on what you can control.’
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