England book semi-final with co-hosts Australia

SYDNEY (Agencies): England set up a Women’s World Cup semi-final with co-hosts Australia as they came from behind against a dangerous Colombia side. The European champions, favourites to go all the way in Australia, have not played their best football in the tournament but this was a much more rounded display in front of a hostile crowd in Sydney.

Largely composed in defence and hard-working in attack, the Lionesses were rewarded with two slices of luck which they capitalised on, after goalkeeper Mary Earps had been beaten by a quick-thinking lob in the first half. Lauren Hemp poked in the equaliser, just seven minutes after Leicy Santos had caught out Earps, when Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez spilled a routine gather in the six-yard area under pressure from Alessia Russo.

Arsenal striker Russo, who had only scored once in four World Cup matches prior to Saturday’s quarter-final, worked tirelessly out of possession, earning her opportunity when she pounced on a kind deflection to drill in England’s second. Earps was called into action later, tipping Lorena Durango Bedoya’s effort over the bar, while England were put under further pressure by Colombia’s talented attacking line-up, which included Real Madrid’s teenage sensation Linda Caicedo.

The Lionesses, who had to deal with a crowd of 75,784 who were largely backing Colombia, face co-hosts Australia next on 16 August at 11:00 BST, live on BBC. It will be the Lionesses’ third straight World Cup semi-final after defeats by the USA in 2019 and Japan in 2015. ‘England grind out another win’ England have had to battle their way through the competition, needing 1-0 wins to creep past Haiti and Denmark in the group stages, before a penalty shootout victory over Nigeria in the last 16.

They were without suspended top-scorer Lauren James, who is serving a two-match ban following her red card against Nigeria, but England did enough in front of goal to seal victory in a tough encounter. Colombia, ranked 21 places lower than England, had already proven their worth in Australia, seeing off Euro 2022 finalists Germany in the group stages and progressing in style. Their attacking line-up caused England problems and they pushed desperately late on for an equaliser, testing the Lionesses’ back five. However, spearheaded by the centre-back trio of Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter, England held their own against the physicality and tenacity of the Colombians.

Stadium Australia was filled with yellow shirts in the stands – Colombia fans were on their feet waving scarves around their heads following any advance over the halfway line and they whistled loudly when England were in possession. This was by no means an easy victory but the resilience and grit that England have been forced to demonstrate so far in the tournament once again helped them over the line, deservedly so, on Saturday. Russo shines as defence hold firm Heading into the quarter-finals, England’s Earps said “there was more to come from them”, having not shown their best aside from an impressive 6-1 thrashing of China. So when the full-time whistle went in Sydney, several players fell to the floor in exhaustion and Sarina Wiegman gave a rousing team-talk afterwards – they had been in a gruelling battle. Strong individual performances helped them.

Russo barely put a foot wrong beside a wasted header in the first half and was rewarded for her endeavour when the ball bounced kindly for her to score. “I always try to work as hard as I can on the pitch,” said Russo. “There is often sometimes a bit of luck in football. “I was glad I took [the chance] when it came. I was in the right position and I was fortunate it went in the back of the net.” Hemp ran at defenders with pace and purpose and Lucy Bronze dealt with the tricky feet of Caicedo for the majority of the match. England’s immense defence, which is starting to look more comfortable with a back three having now started three matches in a row with that formation, were well-organised and blocked shots when they needed to. “These are big games and it has some physicality too – for them a

nd for us. That’s part of the game and we dealt with it really well,” said Wiegman. “They got through it really well and got the win over the line. That was what we were trying to do and fortunately we did that.” Earps once again made a crucial save to make up for her slight error in conceding England’s first goal from open play in the tournament. All-in-all, it was a positive performance to match a result which ensures England are just two matches away from glory. They will have to navigate another hostile crowd in Sydney in their semi-final but they were rarely fazed by it on this showing.

Australia beat France on penalties to reach last four: Co-hosts Australia reached the Women’s World Cup semi-finals for the first time as they beat France in an incredible penalty shoot-out at Brisbane Stadium. Following a goalless 120 minutes, the Matildas triumphed 7-6 in a shoot-out which defied belief with its dramatic twists.

Cortnee Vine scored the winning spot-kick for Australia, after Vicki Becho had struck the post for France. Australia keeper Mackenzie Arnold made a total of four saves in the shoot-out – including twice from Kenza Dali, having moved off the line for the first stop, leading to a retake. Arnold herself had the opportunity to score the winning penalty as the fifth taker for Australia, after saving from Eve Perisset, but struck the post as nearly 50,000 Australians inside the stadium went through every emotion imaginable.

But it is the hosts who march on, reaching their first ever Women’s World Cup semi-final. Australia will play England or Colombia at Stadium Australia in Sydney on 16 August at 11.00 BST. Australia make history in Brisbane furnace Australia were roared on by a capacity crowd who created a lively atmosphere at Brisbane Stadium, but having fallen at the quarter-final stage in three previous World Cups, initially they looked more cowed by the pressure than invigorated by it. But they grew into the game and should have led four minutes before the interval.

France keeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin – who looked a bag of nerves all evening – failed to command a loose ball in the box, allowing Van Egmond to nip in and square to Mary Fowler, who seemed certain to tuck the chance away. Peyraud-Magnin was only bailed out by covering defender Elisa de Almeida, whose last-gasp sliding block was one of the finest pieces of defending seen at this World Cup so far. Those nerves from Peyraud-Magnin extended into the second half, as she miscued a clearance straight to Fowler shortly after the break and was again helped out by a defender blocking the resulting shot.

Australia manager Tony Gustavsson had said he would only start Sam Kerr if she was definitely fit to play the full match, and duly kept back the Matildas talisman to make an impact in the latter stages. On 55 minutes, he pulled the Kerr lever, activating an ear-splitting roar from the home fans. The 29-year-old Chelsea striker was immediately into the action, driving forwards to set up a move which resulted in Raso testing Peyraud-Magnin from range.

Australia, newly fired up, applied heavy pressure to the French goal but could not find a breakthrough in regulation time, making this the first in 31 Women’s World Cup matches featuring Australia to be goalless after 90 minutes. It was also goalless after 120 minutes – leading to a shoot-out which will go down in football history and Australian folklore.

They are the first hosts to reach the Women’s World Cup semi-finals since USA in 2003 – and could be the first since the Americans in 1999 to triumph on home soil. Renard’s goalkeeper gamble nearly pays off France had their own home World Cup spoiled in the quarter-finals four years ago as they lost to eventual champions the USA, and they revelled in the role of party poopers in the opening minutes. Kadi Diani was furious when she shot wide after eight minutes, convinced she was held back and fouled by Australia defender Alanna Kennedy. She had a point. Their best first-half chance fell to defender Maelle Lakrar, brought into the starting XI in place of Chelsea’s Perisset.

Eugenie le Sommer dragged a shot across goal and Lakrar somehow squirted the ball over the top from three yards. Lakrar was also denied by Arnold, her snap shot on the turn following an uncleared corner well palmed away by the West Ham stopper. They failed to press home their advantage while they had it, allowing Australia to gain the ascendancy – especially following the introduction of Kerr. There were shouts for a penalty with 10 minutes remaining as Lakrar grabbed a handful of Caitlin Foord’s shirt, only for referee Maria Carvajal to wave them away. As nerves grew for both teams the play became scrappier, with France thinking they had an extra-time winner when Alanna Kennedy headed into her own net from a corner, only for it to be disallowed as Renard had fouled an opponent.

France had the clearest extra-time opportunities, Arnold making a great diving save from Becho’s drive before Steph Catley hacked another effort off the line. Ultimately penalties were required – with France manager Herve Renard dramatically sending on sub keeper Solene Durand in place of Peyraud-Magnin for the spot-kicks. Durand did her job, saving from both Catley and Clare Hunt – the latter with a phenomenal one-handed stop when a goal would have sent Australia through. But subsequently Becko missed, Vine scored and France fell short, exiting at the last eight for the second successive World Cup.