Lauren Hemp didn’t let the Women’s World Cup semifinal between Australia and England become the Sam Kerr show.
Hemp scored to restore England’s lead and then provided a perfect pass for the clincher as the Lionesses moved into their first World Cup championship game with a 3-1 victory Wednesday over Australia.
The semifinal outcome ended the Matildas’ captivating run through the tournament that Australia is co-hosting with New Zealand, and it ensured England will get a chance to bring a World Cup home for the first time since 1966 when the Lionesses meet Spain on Sunday.
Sarina Wiegman became the first coach to lead two countries to the Women’s World Cup final, and in back-to-back tournaments. Her run with the Netherlands in 2019 ended with a loss to the United States in the championship decider.
On either side of that, she guided Netherlands to the European title in 2017 and then took over the England squad for its breakthrough Euro 2022 title.
“I’m the lucky one — the last two tournaments I’m going to the final,” said Wiegman, the only female head coach of any team to reach the quarterfinals. The equation is now one out of two.
“You make it to finals, it’s really special,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Am I here in the middle of a fairytale or something?’”
England dominated possession in the first half, starving the Australians of the ball and shutting down the Matildas’ transitional, counter-attacking game.
It was rewarded when Ella Toone scored in the 36th minute with a powerful right-foot shot diagonally inside the far post. A throw-in from Rachel Daly went to Hemp, who turned and sent it into the area where Russo turned it back past Hemp for Toone to swoop.
Australia superstar Kerr started her first match of the tournament after overcoming a left calf injury and scored for the Matildas, but it wasn’t enough to overhaul the European champions.
Her equalizer in the 63rd gave the 75,784-strong crowd some hope, but Hemp scored to restore England’s lead in the 71st and provided a perfect through ball for Alessia Russo to finish from a tight angle on the right side four minutes from the end of regulation.
“Even after Sam’s goal there was no fear in the squad. We weren’t nervous. We just played our football,” Hemp said. “I think we showed the relentlessness inside the squad to make it 2-1. And then even when we’re on the backfoot there going into the final few minutes, I felt like we showed calm, composure on the ball to manage to counterattack them and obviously make it 3-1. ”
England and Spain will each be playing in the Women’s World Cup final for the first time when they meet at Stadium Australia on Sunday. It will be the first all-European final since 2003.
Australia will play Sweden, which lost 2-1 to Spain in the other semifinal, for third place on Saturday in Brisbane.
“We wanted to dominate the game, we didn’t do that. And we wanted to probably create more scoring opportunities and we didn’t do that,” Australia midfielder Katrina Gorry said, reflecting on her 100th game for the Matildas. “But you know, we’ve got a quick turnaround and we want to win the bronze medal.”
After topping its group, advancing over Nigeria on penalties in the round of 16 and b eating Colombia in the quarterfinals, England was playing in the semifinals for the third consecutive Women’s World Cup. Australia was in the final four for the first time.
It showed, particularly in the first half and in the last 20 minutes when the Australians had to chase the game.
England had a harder edge and was more clinical when it counted.
The Australians seem to have played their final in the 7-6 penalty shootout win over France last weekend, their first win in four quarterfinal appearances at the Women’s World Cup.
Kerr went on as a second-half substitute in that narrow win over fifth-ranked France and the 29-year-old Matildas captain finally started a game - her team’s sixth of the tournament — against England.
She ended up on the ground after her first touch after a tangle with Keira Walsh. In the 9th minute, England defender Alex Greenwood received a yellow card for a sliding tackle from behind that left Kerr on the ground again.
After being subdued by England’s defense in the first half, Kerr made a big entrance with an equalizer just after the hour. Kerr took the ball at half way, moved up-field in a solo run and wrong-footed a defender before launching a right-foot shot from outside that lightly touched defender Mille Bright before going into the top left corner.
Kerr started making inroads but England responded quickly, with Hemp running onto a long ball into the area and scoring with a left-foot finish after Australia defender Ellie Carpenter over-ran the ball.
Kerr missed a chance to equalize again with a header of the crossbar in the 82nd and the Australians missed another chance in the 85th.
With Hemp creating one more chance, England made them home team pay when Russo finished it off the scoring.
After ending the run for an Australian team that gained the backing of a nation as it progressed through the tournament, Hemp said the England squad wanted to relive the same kind of euphoria that their win in the Euros generated last year.
“Obviously you’ve seen last year how successful we were. We want to do the same again, we want to go one step further,” Hemp said. “We’ve all got a dream and I feel like we’re really pushing each other to be the best that we can.