England will take on Spain in the 2023 FIFA World Cup™ Final after defeating Australia 3-1 in an exhilarating semi-final on Wednesday night.
It was Ella Toone that got the Lionesses off the mark with an excellent strike at the end of the first half after some smart set play by Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo from an attacking throw-in.
But her goal was soon overshadowed by a goal of the tournament contender by Sam Kerr who continued her goal-scoring streak against Mary Earps, taking her tally to 10 in 10 games for club or country against the English goalkeeper, with this one the most important and perhaps the best yet.
She received the ball in her defensive half and drove at the English defence daring them to step towards her but they just kept dropping and so she kept dribbling before deciding she was close enough and then unleashed an absolute rocket from well outside the box. It flew past an outstretched Earps, who couldn’t do much about it and landed firmly in the top left corner to draw the Matildas back level with 25 minutes of regular time still left.
It was the spark Australia needed after a slow first half where they struggled to play against England’s 3-5-2 formation. The Lionesses dominated possession, just like they have for much of the tournament, looking to target the pockets of space between the Matildas defence and midfield.
They also looked to drag Ellie Carpenter and Steph Cately out of the back four and onto their wingbacks in Rachel Daly and Lucy Bronze, who pushed higher on the pitch to isolate the centre-back pairing of Clare Hunt and Clare Polkinghorne with their two strikers in Hemp and Russo.
With Kerr back in the starting 11 having replaced Emily van Egmond it meant Australia lined up more in a 4-4-2 formation with Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord joining Kerr and Mary Folwer attacking almost as a four, looking for one them with an early long ball to release them in the transition moments.
This also made Daly and Bronze need to be more accountable defensively, often dropping into a back five, particularly in the second half where Tony Gustavsson was able to talk to his players and make a few tactical tweaks. They were able to push both Carpenter and Cately forward more into the space left by England and also switch the ball through Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross as the English midfielders had already released to defend in the wide areas, enabling the Matildas to attack through the wide areas in hopes of now taking the lead.
And after Kerr’s incredible individual effort their energy and confidence lifted with their World Cup dream once again alive, but it didn’t last long with Hemp regaining the lead for England just eight minutes later, putting the Matildas back on the back foot.
Following Australia’s equaliser, the Lionesses looked to be more direct and it paid off instantly with a long ball from captain Millie Bright putting Carpenter under immense pressure running back toward her goal. She is unable to connect with the ball cleanly to clear it away, a moment she would love to do-over as Hemp is able to pick her back pocket and slot it past Mackenzie Arnold to make it two for England.
The Matildas continued to push for another equaliser surging forward at every chance, looking to find the head of their captain, but Bright was huge in the air defensively against her Chelsea teammate, disarming several promising attacks by Australia as they edged closer to the final with every minute that passed.
Once again it was Hemp and Russo combining through the middle of the park with Hemp doing a great job to hold up the ball to wait for Russo to make her run before slipping her in with a no-look reverse pass. Russo made no mistake firing a low shot into the back of the net and sealing the win for England and securing them a spot in their first-ever World Cup Final.
Having lost their two previous World Cup semifinals, the Lionesses now have a chance to bring home their second-ever major women’s trophy after they claimed the Euros last year.
They will also regain Lauren James from suspension for the big Final against Spain which will take place back in Sydney this Sunday, August 20 at 8:00PM AEST.
Australia will need to regroup as they still have a chance to bring home a bronze medal as they play Sweden in Brisbane Saturday, August 19 at 6:00PM AEST in the third-place playoff game.