England sweep aside co-hosts Australia to book World Cup final place
Lauren Hemp’s second-half strike helped fire England into their first World Cup final as the Lionesses sealed a 3-1 victory over co-hosts Australia in front of a sold-out crowd in Sydney.
Ella Toone, who replaced the suspended Lauren James for England’s quarter-final win over Colombia, netted 36 minutes into her second start of the tournament in front of a crowd of 75,784.
Australia captain Sam Kerr, making her first start of competition, equalised for the first-time semi-finalists with a stunning individual goal after the break before Hemp put England back out in front.
Alessia Russo added another late in the second half to cap off the historic encounter and set up an all-European final showdown against Spain on Sunday night in Sydney.
England are now one win away from lifting two major trophies in just under 13 months after their triumph at last summer’s European Championships, while Australia will play Sweden for third place in Brisbane on Saturday.
Kerr, forced to miss Australia’s first two matches with a calf injury, returned to Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI after coming on as a substitute in their last-16 and quarter-final victories.
Australia came into this contest as the only team to have beaten the Lionesses in Sarina Wiegman’s 37-match run as England manager with a 2-0 victory at Brentford in April.
Katrina Gorry unleashed a fine long ball over the heads of the England defenders early on to put Kerr through on goal, but Mary Earps was able to make the stop and the offside flag was eventually raised in any case.
Then, in a near mirror image, Georgia Stanway latched on to Alex Greenwood’s ball over the top and forced a lunging save from Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.
Though the opening minutes flowed at a more patient pace than the frenetic first half against Colombia, momentum had picked up by the time Russo fired into the side-netting after 17 minutes.
Perhaps it was the tension of the occasion, but the sea of yellow supporting the hosts seemed quieter throughout the first half than the more raucous legions who came to support Colombia at the same stadium.
Instead, the support came in the more organised form of ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi’ chants peppered by applause, like the warm reception Arnold received when she picked out Greenwood’s delivery to prevent England any chance of heading home an opener.
Hayley Raso might soon have sent them into raptures, but instead saw her effort from a deflected corner blocked by Lucy Bronze before Ellie Carpenter’s cross sailed across the face of goal.
Were it not for the absence of James, sitting out the semi-final while she served the second game of the two-match ban for her last-16 red card against Nigeria, Toone might not have even been on the pitch.
But there she was, in exactly the right place as Russo’s ball skipped past Hemp to find Toone, who gave Arnold no chance when she crash a strike into the top right corner.
Hemp saw a diving header saved before Bronze’s nodded clearance ensured England would carry their lead into the second half.
It was the hosts who enjoyed the early chances after the break, England defender Jess Carter’s well-timed aerial challenge just enough to deny Kerr the opportunity to nod neatly home before Earps held on to Caitlin Foord’s header from Mary Fowler’s cross.
Hemp forced Arnold into a good save from the edge of the area before Millie Bright rose highest from the resulting corner but directed her effort wide.
Kerr’s first goal of this World Cup came out of the blue as she latched on to Raso’s pass inside her own half and drove down the right channel before firing past a despairring Earps from 25 yards.
Hungry for another, Kerr soon spun and sent a nodded effort into the arms of the awaiting Earps.
The decibel level inside Stadium Australia had by now risen considerably, but Hemp would silence the home fans moments later when Bright’s raking long pass found her inside the area and she fired into the bottom right corner to put the Lionesses back in front.
Australia had their chances to level, mostly through Kerr, who sent both a header and a volley over the bar late in the second half, while Bright and Carter combined to clear Earp’s parry from Cortnee Vine’s earlier effort.
The result was sealed when Russo fired low past Arnold after 86 minutes to deny the determined hosts any chance of forcing extra-time.
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