Sports Desk, Aug 12 (EFE).- England and co-host Australia notched hard-fought victories Saturday over Colombia and France, respectively, to set up a semifinal showdown in the Women’s World Cup.
AUSTRALIA 0 (7) – 0 (6) FRANCE
Australia secured their first-ever berth in a final four of a World Cup with a 0-0 (7-6) quarterfinal win over France in a dramatic penalty shootout, an epic conclusion to the match that featured a whopping 20 attempts from the 12-yard mark.
France, who fell in the quarterfinals for the second straight Women’s World Cup, started quickly at Brisbane Stadium in eastern Australia.
But the co-hosts managed to avoid falling behind on the scoreboard and then produced the clearest goal-scoring opportunity of the first half.
That chance came in the 39th minute when Mary Fowler fired toward an empty net but was denied by defender Elisa de Almeida, who executed a classy sliding block to back up netminder Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.
Kadidiatou Diani and Eugenie Le Sommer came close to opening the scoring for France on the other side of the pitch, but it was Australia that had the momentum at the intermission.
The Matildas then got a further boost when superstar striker and captain Sam Kerr, who has been nursing a calf injury, was inserted into the match in the 55th minute to the great pleasure of most of the 49,461 fans in attendance.
But despite creating the majority of goal-scoring opportunities, the co-hosts were not clinical enough in the final third.
Neither side was able to get the ball in the back of the net in extra time either thanks in large part to the heroics of Australian goalie Mackenzie Arnold, and the match came down to penalties.
Solene Durand replaced Peyraud-Magnin for that final chapter of the contest and the move paid off when she made an outstanding save of a spot kick by defender Clare Hunt that would have sealed the victory for Australia.
But Arnold was also more than up to the task, making four saves in the shootout.
Her lone mistake of the match came when she stepped up to take a penalty kick herself and clanked her shot off the post.
Australia, however, caught a break when Vicki Becho struck the woodwork on the penultimate spot kick and Cortnee Vine then clinched the victory for the co-hosts in the ensuing penalty try.
“I’m speechless right now,” Arnold told FIFA afterward. “I’m a little bit overwhelmed. I would say it’s up there with the best days of my life.”
“But the biggest feeling is immense pride. I’m so proud to be Australian right now – both for the team and for the fans. It’s just unreal.”
ENGLAND 2 – COLOMBIA 1
In Saturday’s second quarterfinal, the reigning European champions and one of the favorites for the title rallied to defeat the revelation of this year’s Women’s World Cup, Colombia.
Playing before a massive crowd of more than 75,000 people at Stadium Australia in Sydney, the Lionesses enjoyed the clear possession advantage.
They also gained a further edge when veteran defender Carolina Arias, Colombia’s most-capped player, left the game with an injury in just the 10th minute.