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Day 21: Here we go, Tazuni vs Lessi Russo
It’s time for Sarina to brush up on English-Australian rivalry
England 2 - Colombia 1
England became the only team this knockout stage to come from behind to win a game as they overturned a one goal deficit to beat Colombia 2-1 and reach a fifth consecutive international tournament semi-final. No other side has reached the semi-finals of the past three World Cups, and the result is testament as much to Sarina Wiegman and this current side as it is to the legacy of previous iterations of this England team.
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Wiegman kept the shape the same here, simply replacing the suspended Lauren James with Ella Toone whilst Manuela Vanegas returned to the side for Colombia. England started the faster of the two sides and came close to scoring early on before the game found its rhythm. They looked to play fast balls through the midfield before making use of the space in behind Vanegas, with Lucy Bronze or Georgia Stanway peeling out to the right hand side to cross in.
Meanwhile, Colombia were trying to gain an advantage in the opposite direction where Linda Caicedo was up against Jess Carter. The shot map below tells a story of how little joy Caicedo got though with the expert 1v1 defender coming out on top.
Despite England broadly controlling the game, Colombia took a surprise lead after Leicy Santos floated an excellent shot over the head of Mary Earps. But despite going behind, England did not falter. Instead they piled on the pressure and equalised before half time after Catalina Perez spilled the ball in the penalty area which Lauren Hemp eventually scrambled in.
In the second half, Colombia looked to sit back a bit more to try and frustrate England but a wonderful ball from Georgia Stanway through to Alessia Russo unlocked the Colombian defence. Russo’s turn and finish was immaculate - a moment of quality which felt akin to her goal against Northern Ireland at last summer’s Euros, and a reminder of why Wiegman is so keen to stick with her up front.
It was then up to the defence to stand firm with Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood and Carter all putting in excellent performances to limit any opportunities. It was a match which showed England’s physical attributes, something that has been perhaps lacking in previous games. And it all sets up a World Cup semi-final against hosts Australia.
Australia 0 (7) - France 0 (6)
Australia and France played out the longest penalty shoot-out in World Cup history as each team took ten penalties until Australia eventually prevailed. The game itself had been one of differing shifts in momentum as the attacking threat visualization below shows.
With both teams setting up in a 4-4-2, large amounts of their build-up play was neutralised with France looking especially good at cutting off passing lanes for Australia by blocking the midfield with Kadidiatou Diani and Eugenie Le Sommer. However, France often played themselves into their own trouble with Pauline Peyraud-Magnin struggling to take control of her area. Mary Fowler had plenty of opportunities with seven shots in total but she never truly showed the composure to make the most of them.
Herve Renard had surprisingly selected Elise De Almeida to play at right-back up against Caitlin Foord with Maelle Lakrar and Wendie Renard used at centre-back. Whilst De Almeida did well against Foord, she was a limited outlet going forward, making it easier for Australia to focus their attention on Sakina Karchaoui and Selma Bacha on the left-hand side.
Both teams’ second half subs changed things however. Sam Kerr came on for Australia ten minutes after half-time and initially caused France a lot of issues. Her ability to win balls in the air was dragging De Almeida out of position but her lack of fitness was stopping her from making the most of the space she seemed to be finding. However, her hold up play and passing was a difference maker - it just felt like the other attackers she was playing with did not have the legs to keep up.
Vicki Becho’s introduction for France had a similar effect. Whereas for the first hour, De Almeida and Kenza Dali had offered limited threat, suddenly Becho was ready to run at Steph Catley and began to cause all sorts of problems. These differing points of attack for both Australia and France exploited the space that began to be found as legs tired.
Ultimately, these two teams were pretty even; it seemed at points that not even a penalty shoot out could separate them. Both managers stuck to the game plans that had worked for them throughout the tournament. Perhaps, if one had taken a risk, there would have been a bigger pay-off. But Australia get to play their first ever semi-final, and as the cheers rang out across the country, in fan parks, airplanes, bars and AFL stadiums, you could not help but get swept up in it.