By Christian Radnedge
SYDNEY (Reuters) -England reached their first Women’s World Cup final after beating Australia 3-1 on Wednesday despite a wonder goal from Matildas striker Sam Kerr as the co-hosts’ fairytale run came to an end.
After falling at the semi-final stage in the previous two World Cups, England will face Spain on Sunday looking to add a world title to last year’s European Championship triumph.
Attacking midfielder Ella Toone gave England a first-half lead to silence the crowd of 75,784 but a stunning strike from Kerr, making her first start of the tournament, squared things up after halftime as Stadium Australia erupted in euphoria.
However, Lauren Hemp restored England’s lead before Alessia Russo put the result beyond doubt shortly before the end.
“This is the one thing I’ve always wanted, to make finals at a World Cup and after two times of getting huge disappointment, honestly I can’t believe it,” England full back Lucy Bronze said.
“We all dreamed of being in the final and all our family and friends who booked to stay here until the final because they all believed in us.”
Sarina Wiegman’s side clearly had a game plan to impose themselves physically on Australia, committing nine fouls in the first half as they nullified their opponents’ attacking options.
England opened the scoring in the 36th minute when Russo worked her way to the byline before cutting the ball back and Toone smashed it into the top right corner for her first goal of the tournament.
Australia started the second half much brighter and began pressing England higher up the pitch, looking to create a historic moment that would match Cathy Freeman’s incredible 400 metres victory in the same venue at the 2000 Olympics.
And they got it in the 63rd minute when Kerr received the ball in her own half, ran toward goal and fired an unstoppable rocket into the top left corner from 25 yards out beyond the diving Mary Earps.
The stadium erupted as Australia fans finally got to see their star striker score at this tournament, reigniting hope that Tony Gustavsson’s side could yet play for the title.
But the hosts found themselves behind again less than 10 minutes later.
Matildas defender Ellie Carpenter failed to deal with a long ball over the top from Millie Bright, allowing Hemp an easy finish into the bottom corner to restore England’s lead.
The 23-year-old was involved once more as the game entered the final stages.
Shortly after Kerr had missed a golden chance to equalise again, Hemp turned brilliantly on the halfway line before releasing Russo, who fired a low shot into the far corner to seal England’s place in the final.
Australia will play Sweden in the third-place playoff on Saturday and Kerr said they were proud of what they had achieved despite falling at the penultimate hurdle.
“We can’t thank the fans enough, they’ve been amazing,” she said. “We’ve felt the love all over the country. Just to see the support has really pushed us on.
“So hopefully this stays around because this has been amazing for us… It’s hard to think about (the third place playoff) now but Tony’s already said it’s a quick turnaround.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up and hopefully not go home empty-handed.”
After leading her native Netherlands to a runners-up finish in 2019, Wiegman becomes the first coach to take two different teams to a World Cup final.
“This team has ruthlessness, whether it’s up front or in defence, we really want to keep the ball out of the net, we really want to win and we stick together and we stick to the plan, and it worked again,” the 53-year-old said.
“I’ve never taken anything for granted, but I’m like ‘Am I here in a little fairytale or something?'”
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge;Editing by Peter Rutherford)