England ends a magical Australia run, rolls to the World Cup final

SYDNEY — The delirium that had swarmed and swirled through the Australian air for 10 days finally evaporated on Wednesday night, as if shooed out into the Tasman Sea by a wall of extreme competence. Australia’s adored Matildas had run into ironclad England, and a booming crowd of 75,784 and a louder nation of 26 million had run into reality.

They can resume regular life in their benign winters now.

The wildly anticipated World Cup semifinal, said to echo the loud rivalries of the two nations in cricket, rugby, netball, beer consumption and other matters, went to England, 3-1, in yet another display of the Lionesses’ rarefied capacity to adapt. By the time they reached England’s first women’s World Cup final, set for Sunday against Spain, they had adapted not only to three major injuries before the tournament and one bummer of a much-deserved suspension during it, but also to the wonders of the great Sam Kerr.

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Kerr, the 29-year-old Australian whose calf injury had cost her three World Cup games and had enthralled the co-host nation with suspense, spent part of the 63rd minute giving the supermajority of Australians in the audience a memory, the match a 1-1 score, and the evening a rush of possibilities. As if to show the whole event what it had missed with her absences, she stormed up the pitch with the ball at her boot and four defenders in vicinity, slid slightly right near the top of the box and walloped one barely by defender Millie Bright’s knee, up over goalkeeper Mary Earps’s lunging hand, inside the roof of the goal and into the back left side near the corner.

The place went delirious even as delirium proved just about done.

England would score in the 71st and 86th minutes to sustain its chance to win a European championship (2022) and a World Cup (2023) in hurried succession.

It would get to 2-1 on a long ball into the Australia end that saw England’s Lauren Hemp running along with two Australia defenders, with Ellie Carpenter right in front of her. As the ball arrived, Carpenter went some steps too far, and it wound up with Hemp, who drilled it left-footed across the grass, past goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold and just inside the right post.

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Australia did challenge after that, giving the crowd a few hopes, the biggest in the 85th minute when a corner from Kyra Cooney-Cross curled in to force Earps to punch it out, where it found Kerr’s foot. She one-timed it up over the goal and cupped her hands to her mouth. The delirium was about to go for good.

In the very next minute, the 86th, Hemp went on a fantastic run through the middle of the pitch. She made it all the way down near the top of the box, where she sent it over to Alessia Russo, who had scored the winner in the 2-1 quarterfinal against Colombia. Russo sent the ball skidding by Arnold’s dive and into the left side of the goal, and England would return to Stadium Australia on Sunday.

Fans in London watching the women’s World Cup celebrated England’s 3-1 victory over Australia on Aug. 16. (Video: Reuters)

It had lost major players Leah Williamson to injury, Fran Kirby to injury, Beth Mead to injury and, during the tournament, the 21-year-old wonder Lauren James to a two-match FIFA suspension for an imprudent feat of misbehavior, stepping on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie in the round of 16 in a world full of video cameras. It had lost the 1-0 lead it had built on a goal from James’s replacement, Ella Toone, in the 36th minute, a splendid strike from inside the box on the left across the goal into the net wall on the right. Yet it had adapted, bringing two-year manager Sarina Wiegman’s England record to 30 wins, seven draws and one loss (to Australia, in a friendly in England in April).

The Matildas, the soccer team and song, are national treasures in Australia

It had quelled the delirium in a great city that filled with signage and bus-stop billboards reading, “Go Matildas.” The Matildas fans had marched into the Central train station with a drum out front, and the trains had filled to standing room, idling with delays as if the anticipation had gotten to them, too, including the ones with electronic “Go Matildas” on their fronts.

Yet England waited at the stadium, and the spiraling fun had just about expired.

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