have reached the final of the for the first time after a securing a 3-1 victory over Australia on Wednesday courtesy of goals from Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo.
The Lionesses faced a daunting challenge at Syndey’s Stadium Australia in front of a loud and partisan home crowd, with the Matildas the only team to have beaten Sarina Wiegman’s side in the previous two years and 37 matches.
But they produced an accomplished, controlled and clinical display against their old rivals to make it third time lucky in World Cup semi-finals and will now take on Spain in Sunday’s showpiece.
Toone opened the scoring in the 36th minute but her effort was cancelled out midway through the second half by a magnificent solo goal from Sam Kerr, only for Hemp to capitalise on a defensive mix-up before Russo wrapped up the win late on to seal England’s passage to the final.
Wiegman named an unchanged XI for the match, with Lauren James serving the second of her two-game ban. Australia star Kerr was passed fit to start for the first time at the tournament, but centre-back Alanna Kennedy missed out through illness.
The first chance of the match fell to the Chelsea striker, who showed no signs of her calf injury to race clear of England’s high defensive line only to be denied by Mary Earps – though the flag was belatedly raised for offside.
England should have taken the lead moments later when an excellent ball in behind the Aussie defence from Alex Greenwood released Georgia Stanway, but her volley attempt was too close to goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.
The Lionesses’ fluid attack was clicking nicely in the opening exchanges, with Russo hitting the side netting after a flowing move, and a very defensive Australia were struggling to pick up England’s sniping runs in behind as Wiegman’s side mixed up sustained possession with sudden, direct attacks.
Just as the Matildas were starting to enjoy a rare period of possession of their own, they were undone by a moment of magic; Russo wriggled her way towards the byline and did well to pull the ball back where Toone was on hand to bury a rising effort into the top corner – the first goal Australia had conceded in five hours.
Having roared every little sporadic Australian foray forward, and whistled every mistimed challenge from England, suddenly the packed-out stadium – with 75,784 in attendance – fell silent.
Australia showed more vim and energy after the restart but the Lionesses still felt in control and Hemp had Arnold scrambling across her line with an optimistic long-range effort. From the resulting corner, skipper Millie Bright had a free header and should have put the game to bed.
She was made to pay for that profligacy. Kerr, who had struggled to impact the match until this point, collected the ball on the halfway line and drove at Chelsea team-mate Bright, who backed off and backed off, before unleashing a ferocious effort from 25 yards out that soared over Earps and nearly burst the back of the net.
This historic stadium has seen some momentous sporting moments over the years, from Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold medal at the 2000 Olympics to Jonny Wilkinson’s Rugby World Cup-winning drop goal in 2003, but few will have produced the roar that greeted Kerr’s stunning solo goal.
England responded to that setback, though, with a cross from Lucy Bronze nearly catching out Arnold before Russo sent a header just wide of the far post. Their renewed pressure eventually paid off when right-back Ellie Carpenter failed to deal with a long ball forward.
As she dithered, Hemp pounced from six yards and prodded the ball past a helpless Arnold. The first two goals in the contest had been stunning finishes, but this was decidedly scrappy – but almost fittingly so, testament to the endeavour and fight that has accompanied England’s more cultured play en route to the final.
The Lionesses still had to survive some almighty scares in the final stages, though. Kerr sent a header over the bar from close range before substitute Cortnee Vine forced a fine stop from Earps. From a corner moments later, Kerr was left completely unmarked but blazed over.
Rather than riding out a late siege, England continued to threaten on the break and Ki**ed off the tie in the 86th minute. A brilliant, slaloming run from Hemp opened up the pitch and she threaded the needle to set up Russo, who fired into the bottom corner with a virtually identical finish to her winner against Colombia in the previous round.
The Lionesses’ win sets up a first ever Women’s World Cup final and prevents a clean sweep for Australia in a series of sporting clashes that have lasted all summer. Both the men’s and women’s Australian cricket teams retained the Ashes while they also came out on top in the Netball World Cup final earlier this month. This is sweet revenge for England though.
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