Australia 1-3 England: Toone strike puts England on course for Women’s World Cup glory

With a berth in Sunday’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at stake, England looked to record what would be a historic win at Sydney’s Stadium Australia. It would be no mean feat though, with their opponents being the co-hosts, buoyed by a raucous home crowd and strengthened by the return of the legendary Sam Kerr.

AUS: Arnold; Catley, Polkinghorne, Hunt, Carpenter; Foord, Cooney-Cross, Gorry, Raso; Fowler, Kerr

ENG: Earps; Greenwood, Bright, Carter; Daly, Walsh, Stanway, Bronze; Toone; Hemp, Russo

After a cagey opening few minutes, the Matildas were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead as the returning Sam Kerr was played through on goal with a fabulous long ball over the top of the England defence. Darting through on goal, the Chelsea forward was denied superbly by Mary Earps – and the offside flag was then raised against the Australian.

But in a game that would prove to bear chances at both ends, Georgia Stanway looked to test Mackenzie Arnold. Her near-post effort was sent out for a corner, resulting in a goalmouth scramble reminiscent of a pinball game as Australia struggled to clear the danger.

The Lionesses enjoyed their best chance of the opening stages after 17 minutes, with neat linkup play between Ella Toone and Alessia Russo allowing the latter to rifle a shot towards goal – though Arsenal’s summer signing was only able to bury her shot into the side netting.

Yet a flurry of corners just before the half-hour mark would look to pose a threat to England’s defence, with Hayley Raso’s shot seemingly destined for the near post until a deflection saw it sent behind. They would be granted another sensational chance mere minutes later as Jess Carter’s stray pass allowed the Matildas to break with pace, though Ellie Carpenter’s cross from the right flank was overhit and sailed through the box uncontested.

With thirty-six minutes on the clock, Ella Toone proved just why she remains in Sarina Wiegman’s starting eleven despite any outside criticism, as she unleashed a thunderous strike that nestled beautifully into the top-right corner. Alessia Russo’s cut-back pass from the byline was perfectly placed for the Manchester United star, who made absolutely no mistake with her finish, leaving Mackenzie Arnold helpless as the Lionesses took the lead in Sydney.

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The Matildas looked to earn an equaliser in first-half stoppage time as a great delivery from the left flank looked certain to be nodded home by Sam Kerr – though Rachel Daly rose highest, clearing the danger and signalling the start of the interval.

Keen to find an early equaliser in the second half, Mary Fowler’s diagonal ball over the top for Caitlin Foord looked to be a dangerous one. Mary Earps proved her worth though, claiming the Arsenal forward’s effort with ease to ensure England’s lead remained.

Yet on her return to the starting eleven, it was none other than Sam Kerr that provided Australia’s much-needed lifeline. With 63 minutes on the clock, the Matilda waltzed towards goal from the half-way line – getting the better of her Chelsea teammate Millie Bright as she rifled an unstoppable effort past Mary Earps to send the Stadium Australia crowd into sheer euphoria.

Seeking an instantaneous response, Lauren Hemp’s ball towards Alessia Russo in the centre of the penalty area was nodded towards goal by the ex-Manchester United forward – but her headed effort bobbled just wide of the far post.

It wouldn’t matter all too much though, as just seconds later, Lauren Hemp found the back of the net herself. Having beaten Ellie Carpenter as she tore down on goal, the Manchester City starlet placed her strike perfectly – slotting a composed effort past Mackenzie Arnold to truly establish herself as one of Sarina Wiegman’s most crucial players.

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But as is to be expected in games of this magnitude, the chances never truly stopped coming. Cortnee Vine looked to pick out the far corner with her low strike from the right of the box, and while Mary Earps was able to palm her effort away from danger initially, there was still work for her defenders to do before the danger was truly cleared.

The Matildas will be ruing Sam Kerr’s squander opportunity with five minutes left to play though, as the ball fell perfectly to the Chelsea striker following a corner. Under pressure though, the forward blasted her effort over the woodwork!

That would come back to bite the Australians, as less than a minute later, Alessia Russo added to England’s advantage with a tidy finish at the other end of the pitch. Darting through on goal, Lauren Hemp selflessly opted to play in Alessia Russo – and her utterly perfect finish wrapped up a comfortable victory for the Lionesses in Sydney.

Despite concerns that the atmosphere would be heavily dominated by the home crowd after reports of England’s ticket allocation being used by Australian fans, England powered through to set up a mouthwatering final against Spain. They will return to Stadium Australia on Sunday, preparing to face an impressive la Roja outfit in the winner-takes-all match.

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