Down To The Final Four
It is reaching the business-end of the Women’s World Cup with eight teams now reduced down to four at the hands of the quarter-finals.
It was another early kick-off for those watching from the UK with Spain taking on the Netherlands at 2am in the Wellington Regional Stadium. La Roja brought another sensational game of football to our screens with a dramatic extra-time winner struck by Salma Paralluelo, sending the 2019 finalists home from the tournament. Mariona Caldentey opened the scoring in the 81st penalty, converting a penalty awarded to the Spanish as a result of van der Gragt’s handball. Obviously devastated that her mistake had cost her team, van der Gragt continued to work hard as the game entered into injury time, and earned a spectacular redemption as she scored the equaliser for the Netherlands in the 91st minute, sending the game to extra time. Her goal set a new record for the amount of goals scored at a Women’s World Cup: it was the 147th goal scored at Australia and New Zealand, surpassing the previous record of 146 set at the Women’s World Cup in Canada, 2015, and equalled at the Women’s World Cup in France, 2019. Unfortunately for the Dutch, Salma Paralluelo scored an unstoppable goal in the 111th minute to send La Roja through to their first semi-final at a major tournament.
Spain’s semi-final opponents were confirmed later in the day as Japan took on Sweden at Eden Park. By the 52nd minute, Sweden were already 2-0 up against a Japan side who had had an incredible campaign up to that point, winning every game they had played. Amanda Ilestedt scored her fourth goal of the tournament before Filippa Angeldal doubled the advantage with a penalty conversion. Riko Ueki had a chance from the spot herself in the 76th minute, to get Japan back into the game, but hit the bar. Substitute, Honoka Hayashi, did manage to get one back in the 87th minute, but it wasn’t enough to deny Sweden reaching their fifth Women’s World Cup semi-final.
Co-hosts, Australia, battled against France for a place in the final four, on Saturday 12th August. Nothing was decided in normal time, nothing was decided in extra time, but after 20 penalties were taken, Australia were the winners. It was Australia’s first goalless draw at the tournament so far, but both sides did create chances during the 90 minutes that they were unfortunate not to convert, and as extra time was played, it looked as though the only way to separate the two sides would be to go to penalties. Cortnee Vine, who probably had not been expecting the penalties to reach herself, stepped up for the Matildas and scored the decisive penalty that sent the team further in a tournament than any men’s or women’s team has ever reached before - the semi-finals. The Brisbane Stadium was ecstatic as the Matildas celebrated their success on home soil - what an incredible achievement!
The Matildas will face the Lionesses in the semi-finals as England secured a 2-1 victory over Colombia in the quarter-finals at Stadium Australia. 75,784 fans witnessed the inspiring talent that is the Lionesses who fought back from going a goal down. Leicy Santos scored for Colombia in the 44th minute, but Lauren Hemp was there in the 7th minute of injury time with an immediate response and instinctive finish, taking advantage of the keeper’s mistake and scoring to send both sides into half-time level. Hemp became the youngest player to score for England in a Women’s World Cup knockout match at 23 years and five days old, surpassing Lucy Bronze who was 23 years and 237 days old when she scored in the round of 16 in 2015 against Norway.
The second half brought with it the same attacking desire and intent from the Lionesses with Alessia Russo pouncing onto the end of a pass from Georgia Stanway, striking it into the far corner of the net, impossible for the keeper to save. The emotion on Russo’s face at the realisation of the magnitude of the goal she had just scored, encompasses how much it means to this England team to be reaching the last four for the third successive edition. Whilst Colombia may be out of this year’s Women’s World Cup, they have been a huge part of an already unbelievably memorable tournament, and can go home with their heads held high at the historic journey they have been on. The semi-final between Australia and England will be played on Wednesday 16th August at 11am for UK viewers, where the Lionesses will be looking to take the next step towards achieving their dreams of lifting that World Cup trophy.