Ruthless England beat Australia to set up World Cup final with Spain

By AFP   August 16, 2023 | 06:45 am PT
Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo did the damage late on as England shattered Australian dreams Wednesday with a clinical 3-1 win in Sydney to set up a Women's World Cup final against Spain.

The Lionesses had stumbled at the same stage twice before but the European champions made no mistake this time to silence most of the 75,000 crowd and roar into the final for the first time.

They deservedly took the lead nine minutes before the break with Manchester United's Ella Toone unleashing a rocket just inside the box with the outside of her boot.

A fit-again Sam Kerr, starting for the first time this tournament, hit back for the home side just after the hour with a world-class goal that set the game on fire.

The skipper picked up the ball, went on a weaving run through England's half and let fly from 30 yards into the top corner.

It sparked ecstatic scenes but the crowd were silenced just eight minutes later when Hemp muscled her way into the box and stabbed into the corner, before Russo put the icing on the cake with four minutes left of normal time.

"We played a hard game but again we found a way to win," said England coach Sarina Wiegman, who also took her native Netherlands to the 2019 final, before losing 2-0 to the United States.

"We have been talking about ruthlessness and this team has ruthlessness, whether it is up front or in defense.

"I never take anything for granted, but it's like I'm living in a fairytale or something," she added.

Dream come true

England now face a final on Sunday, also at Stadium Australia, against a dangerous Spanish side that beat Sweden 2-1 in the last four.

"Every game in this tournament has been of the highest level so we have to be ready," said Russo

"But we've been dreaming since we were little girls. We're excited, we'll recover and be ready."

England had been in this position before, in 2015 and 2019, losing 2-1 on both occasions, with a third-place finish their best World Cup before now.

But Wiegman led them to the European title last year on home soil and captain Millie Bright said before the semi-final they were now better-placed to handle big-pressure games.

They demonstrated their resilience at a pumping and partisan Stadium Australia, successfully blanking out the boos and jeers to silence an expectant home nation.

Despite losing Australia have enjoyed their best World Cup ever, with a third-placed playoff against Sweden on Saturday still to play.

"I feel for so many tonight, the players left it all out there," said Australia coach Tony Gustavsson. "But it was one of those nights. England were clinical.

"Our defending in the first half was solid, but we were not brave enough on the ball. In the second half we started playing the type of game we can play."

Heavy challenges

With influential striker Kerr fit again, Gustavsson moved Emily van Egmond to the bench in one of two changes with defender Clare Polkinghorne in for an ill Alanna Kennedy.

England stuck to the same XI that beat Colombia 2-1 with striker Lauren James serving the second of a two-match ban -- she will be eligible to play on Sunday.

Kerr was in the thick of the early action and England ruthlessly looked to close her down with some heavy challenges, one of them earning Alex Greenwood a yellow card.

But as England grew in confidence they began controlling the midfield battle.

Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold rescued Australia when she deflected Georgia Stanway's strike with her legs.

The breakthrough came in the 36th minute with Toone, in the side for James, arrowing her shot into the top right corner after Hemp pulled the ball back from the touchline.

With 45 minutes to save their tournament, Australia frantically pressed forward and it paid dividends when Kerr's wonder strike drew them level.

But England were unmoved and when Ellie Carpenter misjudged a long ball into the box, Hemp hustled her way through to score from close range.

Kerr then missed a golden chance to draw level again, and a minute later Russo found herself alone in the box and finished calmly with her right foot to seal a deserved win for England.

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