They can resume regular life in their pleasant winter now.
“I’m sorry,” the brilliant England manager, Sarina Wiegman, said earnestly at one point.
The hyper-anticipated World Cup semifinal at Sydney’s Olympic stadium, said to echo the loud Australia-England rivalries in cricket, rugby, netball, beer consumption and other matters, went to England, 3-1, in yet another display of the Lionesses’ rarefied knack for adapting. By the time they reached England’s first women’s World Cup final, set for Sunday against Spain, they had adapted not only to three major injuries before the tournament, one daunting injury during it, and one bummer of a much-deserved suspension also during it, but also to the wonders of Australia’s great Sam Kerr.
“We’ve had a lot of things thrown at us,” Wiegman said, and here came another in the 63rd minute with England ahead 1-0. Suddenly Kerr, the 29-year-old Australian whose calf injury had cost her three World Cup matches and had caused the nation suspense, gave the supermajority of Australians in the audience one more World Cup memory and gave the match a buffet of fresh possibilities. This marvel of an athlete stormed up the pitch with the ball at her boot and four defenders in her surroundings, slid slightly right near the top of the box and walloped one barely by defender Millie Bright’s knee, up over goalkeeper Mary Earps’s lunging hand, inside the roof of the goal and into the back left side near the corner.
The place enjoyed a turn of runaway delirium that would serve as its last, as the evening would end with a reporter complimenting Kerr’s goal and Kerr sort of shrugging in dejected agreement that it had been good. Things turned back to England because England oozes equanimity. The Lionesses would score in the 71st and 86th minutes with the duo of Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo, sustain a chance to put a 2023 World Cup title atop their 2022 European title, and place Wiegman in the World Cup final for the second straight time, her Netherlands having lost the 2019 final to the United States.
“Even after Sam’s goal,” player of the match Hemp said, “there was no fear in the squad.”
“For me,” England defender Jess Carter said, “it’s back to basics and sticking with our game plan.”
“The strength of this team,” England defender Lucy Bronze said, “is that we stick together, we’ve got a tight bond, an incredibly tightknit team.”
“After that,” Wiegman said of Kerr’s goal, “we did have a couple minutes we really had to go through because of the crowd noise and the extra energy.” But, in summary: “I can hardly describe how proud I am of the team because of how this team has been adapting all the time — before the tournament, during the tournament and now this game.”
England lost captain Leah Williamson to knee injury in April. It lost the excellent attacking midfielder Fran Kirby to knee injury that left her officially ruled out in early May, almost three months after the injury occurred. It lost Beth Mead, merely the player of the tournament at Euro 2022, in late May, when she was left off the squad after it became clear she had not recovered fully from knee surgery. It lost catalyst Keira Walsh for its third World Cup group match after she went down in the second with a bad-looking knee injury. And it lost the 21-year-old budding star Lauren James, who had scored gaga goals in this World Cup against Denmark (one) and China (two), but earned a two-match suspension after she stepped on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in the round of 16.
Now it lost its 1-0 lead, built in the 36th minute when Hemp, on the left, got the ball down to Russo, on the end line, and Russo steered it back up the box past a charging Hemp to Ella Toone, James’s replacement. “It fell straight to me in the box,” the 23-year-old Toone said, “and I just thought, Why not. Just knock it.” It blasted to the right across the front of the goal past keeper Mackenzie Arnold and into the right wall. “Honestly, that’s the best shot that I got in my life …” Toone said. “Sometimes you hit a ball and you go, ‘That was all right.’ ”
Now even that moment had gone challenged, but here came that composure, and there went that delirium. “I think right now,” Australia veteran defender Steph Catley said, “it’s just heartbreak and disappointment that what we’ve done here has ultimately ended.”
Bright, who is serving as England’s captain at the World Cup, shipped a long ball to where Hemp ran along with two Australia defenders with one of them, Ellie Carpenter, right in front of her. Yet as the ball arrived Carpenter lost track of it, and it wound up with Hemp, who drilled it left-footed across the grass, past Arnold and just inside the right post.
It stood 2-1, and the Matildas did try, of course. They gave the crowd a few more gasps, the biggest in the 85th minute when a corner from Kyra Cooney-Cross curled in to force Earps to punch it out, where it found Kerr’s foot on the right. Kerr one-timed it up over the goal and cupped her hands to her mouth. Soon she would double over hands on knees, crushed, the Australian frenzy curtailed.
That’s because in the very next minute, Hemp went on a fantastic run through the middle of the pitch and made a swell pass from near the top of the box over to the right where Russo ran right to it. “Well,” Wiegman said, “I thought it was just an incredible pass.” Having scored the winner in the 63rd minute in the quarterfinal against Colombia, Russo would score the clincher in the 86th minute in the semifinal against Australia. She redirected the ball to her left to go by Arnold’s dive and skidding into the left side of the goal to send England skipping toward Sunday. “My thought was, ‘We’re not gonna give this away now,’ ” Wiegman said. “You’re never sure, but that was my thought.”
It had quelled the delirium of an expectant Wednesday in a great city with its signage and bus-stop billboards reading, “Go Matildas,” with Matildas scarves on passerby after passerby on the sidewalks, with Matildas fans marching into the Central train station with a drum out front. Australians prepared to smash more TV ratings, their raptness making the quarterfinal the most-watched Australian sports program since Cathy Freeman’s epic 400-meter run in the 2000 Olympics.
“It’s been unbelievable,” 20-year-old Australian wonder Mary Fowler said of the run to the semifinal.
“The way that everyone got behind us, it’s been amazing,” Kerr said.
“You (go) in the store,” Wiegman said, “and the newspaper and the front page is all about the Matildas.”
Now the trains filled to standing-room, idling with delays as if the anticipation had gotten to them, too, including the ones with electronic “Go Matildas” on their fronts. Finally the train full of green and gold got going from the city toward the suburbs toward the stadium.
But England waited there, and it brought its composure.