England set up a Women’s World Cup semi-final with co-hosts Australia as they came from behind against a dangerous Colombia side.
The European champions, favourites to go all the way in Australia, have not played their best football in the tournament but this was a much more rounded display in front of a hostile crowd in Sydney.
Largely composed in defence and hard-working in attack, the Lionesses were rewarded with two slices of luck which they capitalised on, after goalkeeper Mary Earps had been beaten by a quick-thinking lob in the first half.
Lauren Hemp poked in the equaliser, just seven minutes after Leicy Santos had caught out Earps, when Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez spilled a routine gather in the six-yard area under pressure from Alessia Russo.
Arsenal striker Russo, who had only scored once in four World Cup matches prior to Saturday’s quarter-final, worked tirelessly out of possession, earning her opportunity when she pounced on a kind deflection to drill in England’s second.
Earps was called into action later, tipping Lorena Durango Bedoya’s effort over the bar, while England were put under further pressure by Colombia’s talented attacking line-up, which included Real Madrid’s teenage sensation Linda Caicedo.
The Lionesses, who had to deal with a crowd of 75,784 who were largely backing Colombia, face co-hosts Australia next on 16 August at 11:00 BST, live on BBC.
It will be the Lionesses’ third straight World Cup semi-final after defeats by the USA in 2019 and Japan in 2015.
‘England grind out another win’
England have had to battle their way through the competition, needing 1-0 wins to creep past Haiti and Denmark in the group stages, before a penalty shootout victory over Nigeria in the last 16.
They were without suspended top-scorer Lauren James, who is serving a two-match ban following her red card against Nigeria, but England did enough in front of goal to seal victory in a tough encounter.
Colombia, ranked 21 places lower than England, had already proven their worth in Australia, seeing off Euro 2022 finalists Germany in the group stages and progressing in style.
Their attacking line-up caused England problems and they pushed desperately late on for an equaliser, testing the Lionesses’ back five.
However, spearheaded by the centre-back trio of Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter, England held their own against the physicality and tenacity of the Colombians.
Stadium Australia was filled with yellow shirts in the stands – Colombia fans were on their feet waving scarves around their heads following any advance over the halfway line and they whistled loudly when England were in possession.
This was by no means an easy victory but the resilience and grit that England have been forced to demonstrate so far in the tournament once again helped them over the line, deservedly so, on Saturday.
Russo shines as defence hold firm
Heading into the quarter-finals, England’s Earps said “there was more to come from them”, having not shown their best aside from an impressive 6-1 thrashing of China.
So when the full-time whistle went in Sydney, several players fell to the floor in exhaustion and Sarina Wiegman gave a rousing team-talk afterwards – they had been in a gruelling battle.
Strong individual performances helped them. Russo barely put a foot wrong beside a wasted header in the first half and was rewarded for her endeavour when the ball bounced kindly for her to score.
“I always try to work as hard as I can on the pitch,” said Russo. “There is often sometimes a bit of luck in football.
“I was glad I took [the chance] when it came. I was in the right position and I was fortunate it went in the back of the net.”
Hemp ran at defenders with pace and purpose and Lucy Bronze dealt with the tricky feet of Caicedo for the majority of the match.
England’s immense defence, which is starting to look more comfortable with a back three having now started three matches in a row with that formation, were well-organised and blocked shots when they needed to.
Earps once again made a crucial save to make up for her slight error in conceding England’s first goal from open play in the tournament.
All-in-all, it was a positive performance to match a result which ensures England are just two matches away from glory.
They will have to navigate another hostile crowd in Sydney in their semi-final but they were rarely fazed by it on this showing.