Kerr Scored. The Crowd Roared. But England Wasn’t Done.

by Pelican Press
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The entire continent of Australia had been waiting not so patiently for the moment that finally arrived in the 63rd minute of Wednesday night’s Women’s World Cup semifinal between Australia and England.

Collecting the ball in her own half and crossing the midfield line, Sam Kerr was off. Head down, driving forward, she took a couple quick dribbles, then a few more, then nudged the ball ahead of her right foot and fired. Her shot, struck hard and high from just outside the penalty area, soared past the reach of England goaltender Mary Earps.

Kerr had wheeled away in celebration by then, even before the ball had settled into the net, and the home crowd inside Stadium Australia let out a deafening and sustained roar. Australia had pulled even with England, and for the first time in the match, it seemed as if the English might be on the ropes.

Maybe a previous version of the team would have been. But this England team scored again eight minutes later, and then added a third goal in the 86th minute. It had, in less than half an hour, turned a tenuous moment into its most dominant finish of this tournament, a 3-1 victory over Australia that sent the Lionesses to their first World Cup final, where they will face Spain on Sunday.

“We’ve got that in this team,” England defender Lucy Bronze said. “We’ve got resilience. We’ve got an inner belief that, I think, is bigger and better than we have ever had previously.”

Bronze was part of the England squads that lost in the World Cup semifinals in 2015 and 2019, disappointments that she has admitted have lingered with her. Getting over that hump in this tournament was hardly a linear path, even after England won the European Championship last year on home soil.

England arrived at the World Cup last month without three of its top players, all sidelined with knee injuries, and it has played its last two games without its initial breakout star here, midfielder Lauren James, who served a two-game suspension for stamping on a Nigerian player in the round of 16.

Coach Sarina Wiegman also pointed out that her players have faced added attention since winning the Euros, which can bring new challenges, and absolutely brings heightened expectations. On Wednesday, though, England looked all the better for that experience — a seasoned team that thrived, rather than crumbled, under pressure.

“I don’t think anything fazes us,” said midfielder Ella Toone, who scored England’s first goal before halftime. “We’ve faced a lot of challenges this tournament that we’ve just got on with and got through.”

Indeed, a theme of this tournament has been England’s finding a way to win, even as it has taken a while to find the dominant form many had expected. In their early matches, the Lionesses relied on strong defense and Earps’s steady goalkeeping as they struggled to score. Against Australia, though, it was their goals that silenced an expectant home crowd.

Having the stadium backing the other team was nothing new, of course. Bronze referred back to England’s 2-1 quarterfinal win against Colombia, when the Lionesses fell into an early deficit in front of another crowd that also heavily favored their opponent. The carnal release inside the stadium after Kerr’s goal was at a different level. While those kinds of moments are expected from Kerr — even if she was not entirely healthy coming off her calf injury — defender Jess Carter said England’s back line was still disappointed to have allowed her goal, frustrated because they felt as if they should have handled it better.

The next few minutes felt a little bit shaky, Wiegman admitted, as the replays of the goal on the stadium video screens wound up the fans again and the noise continued to reverberate. Kerr got another chance on a header, and then another. Earps appeared to signal to her teammates to settle down. The only way through, England knew, was to stick to the game plan, and hold its nerve.

“I thought we did really well, but we have done that really well the whole tournament so far,” Wiegman said. “And then, of course, it didn’t take that long before we scored a second goal. And that helps.”

That may be the quiet strength of these England players: They have won in different ways this tournament, changing their tactics to suit their opponents, adapting on the fly when they’re not working, holding teams off until someone, somehow, conjures a goal. But it was the way they responded to Kerr’s equalizer that demonstrated above all else why they will be playing in the World Cup final.

Forward Lauren Hemp scored in the 71st minute, off a long and searching pass by Millie Bright, England’s captain. Fifteen minutes after that, Alessia Russo delivered the final blow: a low right-footed shot after a driving run up the center by Hemp.

Just as Kerr had done, Russo wheeled away to start her celebration even before the ball had settled into the net. She knew, England knew, the job was done, and the final beckoned. On the bench, Wiegman finally let herself relax.

“We are not,” she thought, “going to give this away anymore.”

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