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Australia pulling for Matildas to advance in Women’s World Cup. Only 1 host has ever won the title

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Australia will try to avoid the host team curse by avoiding elimination in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.

The Matildas have co-hosted this tournament with New Zealand, but the Football Ferns failed to advance out of group play. Australia is still playing and faces France on Saturday in Brisbane, Australia, for a spot in the semifinals.

But tournament hosts have always struggled to make it past the quarterfinals, starting with China in the inaugural 1991 tournament, then Sweden in 1995, Germany in 2011, Canada in 2015 and finally France in 2019.

France was eliminated by the United States in front of 45,000 spectators in Paris, and the sting carried with Les Blues for quite awhile. Aside from the United States, which won the 1999 tournament in America, all other World Cup hosts have failed to advance past the quarterfinals.

France can now kick Australia out of its own tournament, and French coach Herve Renard said his players are familiar with the pressure that faces the Matildas.

“We know exactly what we’re in for,” Renard said. “The host country, we know that that can be a good or bad thing. This is what the French team went through in 2019. It can be hugely disappointing as it was for France when they were knocked out.

“We’re hoping to put Australia through exactly what France went through when they were the host country in 2019.”

Australia may have superstar Sam Kerr at full strength after she missed all of group play with a calf injury, and only played the final 10 minutes of Australia’s quarterfinal win over Denmark.

The Matildas have also been playing in front of massive crowds, including more than 75,000 in Sydney for the victory over Denmark.

“I think that Sydney properly ramped things up,” said defender Alanna Kennedy. “We really felt the energy from the crowd.”

Added 20-year-old defender Mary Fowler: “It’s amazing, especially once the games have finished, when you can really see the size of the crowds that have turned up to watch you.”

Australia has never advanced out of the World Cup quarterfinals in three previous attempts, so a debut in the semifinals is on the line. Australia beat France just last month in a 1-0 warmup ahead of the tournament — the only loss Les Blues has suffered while winning 16 of 18 matches this year.

France is trying to avoid being eliminated in the quarterfinals for the third consecutive World Cup. France was eliminated by Germany in 2015 and the United States four years ago. A win over Australia would put France into the semifinals for the second time ever, but first time since 2011.

France was a bit underwhelming in its World Cup opener, a scoreless draw against Jamaica. But the fifth-ranked team in the world cruised into the quarterfinals by helping to eliminate Brazil while outscoring its opponents 12-4 in the last three games.

ENGLAND-COLOMBIA

Colombia is the over-achiever of the Women’s World Cup and at 25th in the world, it is the lowest-ranked team still playing.

But the Superpoderosas are no fluke and knocked off two-time champion Germany in group play, then beat Jamaica in the knockouts to move into the quarterfinals for the first time in team history.

Only four years ago, Colombia’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup. Colombia also missed the tournament in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

To make it to the semifinals — already they are the only South American team still playing — the Colombians must beat European champion England at Stadium Australia in Sydney. It will be the biggest international stage to date for the Colombians, who have captured their home nation.

“These warriors have us dreaming. Come on Colombia we are with you,” Colombia men’s star Luis Díaz posted on social media after the women’s knockout round victory.

The Colombians are led by 18-year-old sensation Linda Caicedo, a wide-smiling rising star for Real Madrid who has already successfully battled cancer. Caicedo was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 15, and she’s had health concerns in this tournament: she was treated for what Colombia called exhaustion at least twice this tournament, but played the entirety of the team’s last two matches.

“What Linda is doing for me and also every Colombian player, she’s our reference, she’s a symbol,” said Ana Maria Guzman, another 18-year-old on the Colombian squad. “She’s a player that has proven that dreams can be achieved, and you have to work for that.”

Colombia won’t be a pushover for England, a team that hasn’t found any consistency yet in this tournament but is still a FanDuel betting favorite, and won all three of its group-stage games.

England was underwhelming in an opening-game win over Haiti, lost star player Keira Walsh against Denmark, went to an entirely new formation against China, and then lost superstar Lauren James to a two-game suspension.

James earned a red card in England’s knockout round win over Nigeria when she violently tackled an opponent, then stepped on her. The action saw James kicked out of the game that England won on penalty kicks, and then banned for two more matches.

James, who has scored three goals for England in the tournament, apologized.

“Obviously she’s disappointed with what happened,” England forward Beth England said. “It was a split second, emotional moment that happened. We’ve got around her. It is good that she’s acknowledged that and put her apology out.”

England veteran Lucy Bronze said the team has been tested in multiple ways this tournament and has responded every time.

“Everything that has been thrown at us, we’ve dealt with and moved forward,” she said. “I don’t see many other teams who’ve had that adversity and if they had, I don’t think they’ve managed to overcome the way we have. At the same time, we are not happy with our performances.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup

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