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2023 Women's World Cup

2023 World Cup semifinal 2: England ends Australia’s celebrated run and reaches finals for the first time

Richard Callis / SPP

England came up with a decisive 3-1 victory over the host country in Wednesday night’s semifinal match. They have clinched a spot in their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup finals and will face fellow first-time finalist Spain.

The Big Story: England had to fight for its victory, but did so by scoring early and capitalizing on Australian defensive breakdowns. A remarkable goal by Australian star Sam Kerr energized the game but was not enough to keep the Matildas alive. 

The Big Moment: England won the match with smart and precise goals from Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp, and Alessia Russo. But it was the 63rd-minute soaring strike from Sam Kerr, which equalized the match for a brief eight minutes, that made the stadium quake. This strike is almost certainly the goal of the tournament – one of the best World Cup goals ever, men’s or women’s.  

What it Means: Entering Wednesday night’s semifinal, both Australia and England were looking to make history. Neither team had ever qualified for a World Cup final, and both sides were especially motivated to make it there. Australia, keeping the host country hopes alive, unexpectedly beat formidable opponents like Canada and France to get this far, and have transformed Australia into a women’s soccer-loving country in the process. England, a women’s soccer powerhouse as of the past few years, had fallen in the past two World Cup semifinals, and saw 2023 as the year to finally break through, as they still bask in the glory of their 2022 European Tournament championship. 

Though the stadium was alive with Australian pride, England scored first in Wednesday’s semifinal with a strike to the upper right corner from Toone, who has been outshined in the tournament so far by star striker (and current suspension-holder) Lauren James. England led Australia 1-0 at halftime and looked the better team, finishing the first 45 with about 70% possession. And although the match was far from decided, halftime commentators reminded fans that England had never lost a World Cup game when they scored first. 

For anyone who thought this meant the writing was on the wall, however, that presumption went out the window between minutes 63 and 71. Kerr’s goal in the 63rd was the shot heard around the world, and the equalizer from the country’s hero resurged Australia’s hopes of advancing. These hopes were diminished with a messy goal in the 71st from Hemp, who capitalized on an Australian defensive error, and crushed in the 86th, with a goal from Russo that was simply executed too quickly for Australia to react. Kerr had two or three more attempts just within reach of the goal, but Australia was unable to find the back of the net again, and England clinched its first-ever spot in a World Cup final. 

The fact that tonight’s semifinal ended a historic run for one nation while opening a historic opportunity for another reinforces what has become a major thesis of the 2023 World Cup – the global power in women’s soccer is shifting. England and Australia both had to beat top contenders to make it into the tournament’s final four, and with England facing off against Spain in the World Cup finals, the victory will go to a country that’s never before won. While Australia’s elimination is heartbreaking for both the team and the country they electrified on their unprecedented run, the future is promising for not only the Matildas, but for all the other teams in 2023 who made it further than anyone thought possible. 

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