By JOHN PYE (AP Sports Writer)
SYDNEY (AP) — Lauren Hemp didn’t let the Women’s World Cup semifinal match between Australia and England become the Sam Kerr show.
Hemp scored to restore England’s lead eight minutes after a superb equalizer from Kerr, and then provided a perfect pass for the clincher as the Lionesses moved into their first World Cup championship game with a 3-1 victory over Australia on Wednesday.
The semifinal outcome ended a Matildas run that captivated Australia for almost a month and sent England to a matchup with Spain in the final, where the Lionesses will have a chance to bring a World Cup home for the first time since 1966.
Sarina Wiegman became the first coach to lead two countries to the Women’s World Cup final, and in back-to-back tournaments. Her run with the Netherlands in 2019 ended with a loss to the United States.
On either side of that, she guided Netherlands to the European title in 2017 and then took over the England squad for its breakthrough Euro 2022 title.
“I’m the lucky one — the last two tournaments I’m going to the final,” said Wiegman, the only female head coach of any team to reach the quarterfinals.
“You make it to finals, it’s really special,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Am I here in the middle of a fairytale or something?’”
England dominated possession in the first half, starving the Australians of the ball and shutting down the Matildas’ transitional, counter-attacking game.
It was rewarded when Ella Toone scored in the 36th minute with a powerful right-foot shot diagonally inside the far post. A throw-in from Rachel Daly went to Hemp, who turned and sent it into the area where Alessia Russo turned the ball back past Hemp for Toone to swoop.
Kerr was in Australia’s starting lineup for the first time in the tournament after overcoming a left calf injury.
Her equalizer in the 63rd gave the 75,784-strong crowd and millions of fans watching around Australia renewed hope, but Hemp responded with a goal in the 71st and provided a perfect through ball for Russo to finish from a tight angle four minutes from the end of regulation.
“Even after Sam’s goal there was no fear in the squad. We weren’t nervous. We just played our football,” Hemp said. “We showed the relentlessness inside the squad to make it 2-1. And then even when we’re on the backfoot going into the final few minutes, I felt like we showed calm, composure on the ball to manage to counterattack them and obviously make it 3-1.”
England and Spain will each be playing in the Women’s World Cup final for the first time at Stadium Australia on Sunday. It will be the first all-European final since 2003.
Australia will play Sweden, which lost to Spain 2-1 in the other semifinal, for third place on Saturday in Brisbane.
“We had a chance for 2-2 and a couple of minutes later it was 3-1,” Australia coach Tony Gustavsson said. “It was one of those games, unfortunately.”
Katrina Gorry created chances in each half of her 100th game for Australia but said the Matildas weren’t able to dominate the way they needed to.
“But you know, we’ve got a quick turnaround and we want to win the bronze medal,” she said.
After topping its group, advancing over Nigeria on penalties in the round of 16 and beating Colombia in the quarterfinals, England was playing in the semifinals for the third consecutive Women’s World Cup. Australia was in the final four for the first time.
It showed, particularly in the first half and in the last 20 minutes, when England had a harder edge and was more clinical when it counted.
The Australians seem to have played their final in the 7-6 penalty shootout win over France last weekend, their first win in four quarterfinal appearances at the Women’s World Cup.
Kerr missed the group stage, played the last 10 minutes in the round-of-16 win over Denmark and went on as a second-half substitute in that narrow win over fifth-ranked France before finally getting a start against England.
She ended up on the ground after her first touch after a tangle with Keira Walsh. In the ninth minute, England defender Alex Greenwood received a yellow card for a sliding tackle from behind that left Kerr on the ground again.
After being subdued by England’s defense for an hour, Kerr took the ball around halfway, sprinted forward in a solo run and launching a long-range right-foot shot that lightly touched defender Millie Bright before going into the top left corner.
Kerr started making inroads as momentum shifted briefly before England responded, with Hemp running onto a long ball into the area and scoring with a left-foot finish after Australia defender Ellie Carpenter over-ran the ball.
Kerr missed a chance to equalize again with a header in the 82nd and miscued another shot as Australia squandered three opportunities before Hemp set up Russo to finish off the scoring.
After putting Australia out of contention, Hemp said the England squad wanted to relive the kind of euphoria that their win in the European Championship generated last year.
“Obviously you’ve seen last year how successful we were. We want to do the same again, we want to go one step further,” Hemp said. “We’ve all got a dream and I feel like we’re really pushing each other to be the best that we can.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup
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