The Women’s World Cup semifinals are set. After Spain and Sweden won a pair of nail-biting quarterfinals, Australia and England added to the drama on Saturday.
Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie stopped three penalties — four if we include a re-take — to edge France on penalties, then Alessia Russo secured a nerve-wracking win for England over Colombia to set up the other semifinal.
MAIN TALKING POINTS
Arnold bails out herself, Australia to reach first semifinal
It was an entertaining 120 minutes in Brisbane between Australia and France. Both sides exchanged chances, with neither team being able to find the breakthrough despite some quality chances on goal.
Penalties were ultimately required, and just when we thought nothing could’ve topped the entertainment in normal time, that’s when the real fun began.
Having only used one substitution prior, France coach Herve Renard pulled a Louis van Gaal and swapped goalkeepers for the shootout. Third-choice shot-stopper Solene Durand checked into the dying moments of extra time having warmed up on the touchline for the previous 10 minutes.
But it was Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold who stole the show from here. She denied Selma Bacha on France’s first attempt, then dove brilliantly to her right to stop Eve Perisset in the fifth round and had a chance to seal the victory from the spot herself.
Unfortunately for Arnold and the Matildas, the Aussie No. 1 smacked the post. However, in one of the greatest redemptions arcs we’ve seen in some time, Arnold stopped three more French penalties — including a retake in the penultimate round — to give the hosts the win after 10 rounds.
If it wasn’t for Arnold’s tremendousness, the story might’ve been Renard’s decision to swap goalkeepers. Durand saved two penalties of her own, but it wasn’t enough to outdo the Australians.
Now Australia, having qualified for its first World Cup semifinal, become the first host to reach this stage since the United States in 2003. The U.S. won the whole thing four years prior as well.
Perhaps there’s another magical run in the works for the hosts.
England ends Colombia’s fairytale run
Colombia was one of the surprise packages of this World Cup, along with Nigeria, Jamaica, Morocco and South Africa. All five countries advanced to the knockout stage against all odds, but only the Colombians maintained their run to the quarterfinals.
Despite another hard-fought effort against one of the tournament favourites, it’s England who will move on.
Alessia Russo’s 63rd-minute strike wrapped up the win for the European champions but it was a difficult contest. Yet again, Colombia was super clinical and Leicy Santos opened the scoring. A horrendous error from goalkeeper Catalina Perez gifted an equalizer for Lauren Hemp, which England should’ve been thankful for.
Prior to that gaffe, England hadn’t really threatened Perez’s goal. In fact, the two goals were the only clear-cut opportunities they produced all game when analyzing the expected goals (xG).
This wasn’t the first time Colombia frustrated an opponent, so it’s highly possible that this was a one-off, but this might give Australia some confidence entering the semifinals.
CLIP OF THE DAY
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I could have won the game for the girls and I missed it, but the way they rallied around me and just kept me in it. At the end of the day, it’s my job to keep the ball out of the net and thankfully I could do that for them.” — Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.
THREE STARS OF THE DAY
1. Mackenzie Arnold, Australia: If the first 120 minutes weren’t magnificent enough, the Aussie No. 1 somehow topped her performance in the shootout, even after smashing her own penalty off the post in the fifth round.
2. Alessia Russo, England: The Arsenal forward bagged yet another crucial goal for England in a major tournament in what was a closely contested match.
3. Leicy Santos, Colombia: All eyes were on Linda Caicedo, but Leicy Santos was brilliant on Saturday. Outside of her goal, Santos was a nuisance for England’s defence, completing three key passes while logging three tackles and six recoveries.
The semifinals will begin on Tuesday when Spain and Sweden meet in Auckland. Hosts Australia battle European champions England the following day in Sydney in what should be a magnificent atmosphere at the Sydney Olympic Park.