England into World Cup final after Alessia Russo goal deflates Australia


Turns out, it was less of a rivalry after all. Instead, it was an exercise in perfect patience from England, who swatted aside the co-hosts Australia to book a place in a first World Cup final, at the third time of asking. The European champions will return here to face Spain on Sunday and, on this showing, it will not faze them.

A goal from a resurgent Ella Toone was cancelled out by the talismanic Sam Kerr, who made her long anticipated first start, but Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo confined the home team to a limp but heroic exit.

The stage was set, Sydney fizzing with a gentle anticipation. People in suits headed to work wearing green and gold scarves, children customised school uniforms, chalkboard signs outside coffee shops sold dreams not wares. As kick-off ticked closer the tension built, but this was not tension fraught with nerves, more hope. Win or lose, once the dust, or ashes (sorry), had settled, a much greater victory was already taking place and would not be halted by the scoreline.

Kerr was treated to a bruising introduction. Within two minutes, Walsh crunched on to one of her feet – “I slipped,” protested the midfielder with a grin afterwards – and, not long after, Alex Greenwood was booked for sliding in late on the forward. It felt calculated, a “welcome back” with a twist from players so familiar with her threat.

Between those moments Kerr showed a flash of what she does best, Katrina Gorry sending a ball over the top towards her that caught out Millie Bright and Jess Carter, but Australia’s captain was offside before Mary Earps saved her effort.

There had been a lot of focus on the pressure of the occasion. Would England handle a hostile crowd? Would the Matildas be able to bear the weight of a nation fully brought on board with their journey?

England appeared the more comfortable, the experience of a fifth consecutive major tournament semi- final showing in their play. There was a calmness, a patience, to their passing that left the yellow shirts, on the pitch and in the crowd, increasingly frustrated.

Australia’s quarter-final shootout hero Mackenzie Arnold was forced into a save after a shin from Georgia Stanway, and Russo hit the side netting after being forced wide by a tracking Clare Hunt.

The goal to dampen the crowd was coming and when it did it was sumptuous. Hemp kept the ball in play and flicked it to Russo, the Arsenal forward pulled it back and although it was behind Hemp’s trailing leg, Toone was there to crash a shot into the top corner.