England, Australia set up World Cup semi-final blockbuster

England battled past a physical Colombia 2-1 and Australia survived a thrilling penalty shootout against France on Saturday to set up a blockbuster Women’s World Cup semi-final.

Sarina Wiegman’s European champions fought back from going down to a stunning Leicy Santos goal for a deserved win in front of a mainly pro-Colombian crowd of 75,000 in Sydney.

England will be back at Stadium Australia on Wednesday and will face an even more hostile reception against the co-hosts.

In the other quarter-final of the day, Australia beat France 7-6 in a nerve-shredding penalty shootout to reach the last four for the first time in their history.

Colombia, playing in their first quarter-final, took the lead against the run of play through a wonderful dipping effort from the edge of the box by Santos on 44 minutes.

But England struck back deep in first-half stoppage time when Lauren Hemp pounced on a goalkeeping error by a fumbling Catalina Perez, before Alessia Russo sealed the quarter-final in the Lionesses’ favour with a cool second-half finish.

“I am buzzing, we are keeping the dream alive,” said Russo.

“We have had to dig deep from the first game, they have so many talented players who can cause you trouble in a second.”

Eyeing up the clash with Australia, Russo added: “It’s exciting, what more do you want?

“I think Colombia had a great fanbase here tonight so we had a taste of it.”

Colombia have been one of the best-supported teams at the tournament and their fans dominated at Stadium Australia, their yellow shirts vastly outnumbering England supporters.

Nelson Abadia’s side have a reputation for being physical and they dished out some roughhouse treatment.

Wiegman praised her players for keeping their cool while still remaining aggressive.

“We stay calm, we can see the goal, you don’t see panic,” said Wiegman, who took her native Netherlands to the 2019 final, where they lost 2-0 to the United States.

“We have had lots of challenges and we have got through.

“It shows the resilience of the team… they got through really well, they got up and got the win over the line.”

– Penalty drama –

Australia emerged from a heart-stopping penalty shoot-out in Brisbane after 120 minutes of goalless stalemate against France.

It all came down in the shoot-out to Australia’s Cortnee Vine, and she coolly converted the winning kick to send the home crowd into raptures.

It ended a remarkable shoot-out that saw both teams take 10 penalties.

Australia coach Tony Gustavsson said it was the most emotionally draining night of his career.

“I’ve won medals, but I said to the team before this game that it’s not about the medals around your neck,” he added.

“It’s about the heart beating on the back of it. And the heart beating tonight in this team and in this country, unbelievable. I’m so freaking proud about this team.”

In front of a sell-out crowd of more than 50,000, Australia’s victory was achieved despite Sam Kerr again being left on the bench at kick-off.

The talismanic Matildas captain, now fit after a calf injury, came on early in the second half and duly converted her penalty in the shoot-out.

Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold had missed a chance to win the game in the shoot-out when her kick hit the post, but she saved twice from Kenza Dali after the VAR spotted she had both feet off her line the first time.

Vicki Becho missed France’s 10th penalty, and it was left to Vine to beat France’s substitute goalkeeper Solene Durand, who had been sent on especially for the shoot-out.

“You have to be proud of the girls tonight. They played an exceptional match,” French coach Herve Renard said.

In the other semi-final, Sweden will face Spain on Tuesday.

Sweden defeated the 2011 champions Japan 2-1 on Friday, meaning there will be a new name on the World Cup trophy this year.

Outgoing holders the United States and former champions Norway and Germany are all already out. -BSS

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