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England breaks Australia's heart, will play Spain in World Cup final

Ella Toone of England celebrates after scoring her team's first goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup semifinal against Australia in Sydney. England turned away a late challenge to win, 3-1.
Brendon Thorne
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Getty Images
Ella Toone of England celebrates after scoring her team's first goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup semifinal against Australia in Sydney. England turned away a late challenge to win, 3-1.

Updated August 19, 2023 at 9:31 AM ET

England's Lionesses will face Spain's La Furia Roja in Sunday's Women's World Cup final after dealing a crushing defeat to Australia on Wednesday.

England dispatched the hosts, 3-1, bossing the Matildas with accurate passing and physical defense and mounting clinical counterattacks that stunned the host country's spirited fans.

The Matildas lost despite their star striker, Sam Kerr, playing her first full match of the tournament. Kerr sent the crowd at Stadium Australia in Sydney into a tizzy in the 63rd minute with a breathtaking goal from distance that knotted the score at 1-1. But England pulled away late to seize a spot in the final against Spain.

Australia answered England's first-half goal

Ella Toone opened the scoring for England in the 36th minute, slotting a difficult shot past Australian goalie Mackenzie Arnold and into the far corner after a throw-in.

The two teams then battled for nearly 30 minutes before Kerr breathed life into Australia's title hopes. But just eight minutes later, Lauren Hemp put England back in front when she fought through a defender to reach a long ball into the box. As Arnold tried to close in on her, Hemp calmly used her left foot to send a crossing shot into the net.

English goalie Mary Earps dives in vain as Australia's Sam Kerr, far right, blasts a goal past her in their Women's World Cup semifinal, in a photo taken from a remote camera inside the goal.
Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
English goalie Mary Earps dives in vain as Australia's Sam Kerr, far right, blasts a goal past her in their Women's World Cup semifinal, in a photo taken from a remote camera inside the goal.

Australia had several golden chances to equalize after the 80th minute, repeatedly getting the ball to Kerr in the penalty box. But Kerr was unable to convert, and Alessia Russo sealed the game for England with four minutes left in regulation. That's when Hemp sent a perfectly weighted pass through three defenders and into the penalty box, setting up Russo to lash a shot inside the far post.

This year's champion will be a first-time winner

Both Spain and England are in their first final at the Women's World Cup. They set up their historic match in a similar fashion, by answering late goals and holding strong against flurries of attacks in the closing minutes.

In Spain's 2-1 victory over Sweden, all three goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of regulation. England punched its ticket for the final by scoring twice in the final 20 minutes.

Spain brings a flexible and deadly attack into the final. Three Spanish players have each scored three goals in this World Cup — and the group doesn't include two of its biggest stars, 19-year-old phenom Salma Paralluelo and captain Olga Carmona, the pair who notched the goals that beat Sweden.

England responds with its own wealth of talent. Crucially, it will have star forward Lauren James available for the final, after serving a two-game suspension due to a red card. Speculation will likely now center on how coach Sarina Wiegman — who led England to last year's European Championship after taking the Netherlands to the 2019 Cup final — will deploy James on Sunday.

Start time for Sunday's final between Spain and England at Stadium Australia is 6 a.m. ET. The Matildas lost 2-0 to Sweden in Saturday's third-place match.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.