England overcame a brave Australia in the second Women’s World Cup semi-final.
On a historic night in Sydney, the Matildas battled well, had their chances, but their old rivals prevailed 3-1. A nervy first-half saw just one goal, Ella Toone smashing in a first-time shot into the top right corner of Mackenzie Arnold’s net to give England a deserved 1-0 lead.
It quietened the rowdy Sydney crowd, and some Australian players seemed to let the occasion get the better of them in the first-half, in particular the young Mary Fowler, the 20-year old looking too eager to impress early on (she found her feet in the second 45, showing impressive dribbling skills and purpose moving forward).
England held much of the possession in the first-half, the Matildas simply unable to get hold of the ball. England’s “spirited” tackles didn’t help matters, nor did the referee’s reticence to show bookings.
Playing from the start for the first time in the tournament, Sam Kerr was colossal for her country, leading the line like a woman on a mission. It was Kerr that equalised in the second-half in truly sublime fashion: going it alone down the middle of the pitch, she spied England goalkeeper Mary Earps off her line and pinged an unstoppable shot over her head.
The equaliser sparked pandemonium in the Stadium Australia stands but the elation wasn’t too last long. Confusion between two Australian defenders let in Lauren Hemp, who duly dispatched a low shot beyond Arnold.
Australia had their chances to equalise again, including Kerr who should have done much better when the ball landed to her in open space from a corner, but it wasn’t to be. Racing on the break, England made it three and game over when Alessia Russo slid the ball home past a desperate Arnold, who perhaps could have done more to make a save.
So it’s England who advance to the final and it’s a history-making moment for them: it’s their first-ever Women’s World Cup final appearance, after falling at the semi-final hurdle twice before. They’ll face Spain in Sydney on Sunday night, who overcame Sweden in a thrilling game at Auckland’s Eden Park on Tuesday.
As for Australia, they should be rightly proud of their efforts in this tournament: the Matildas have captured the hearts of the nation, and the long-term effects on football in this country, especially women’s football, should prove to be the real winner.