England stars eager to seize incredible opportunity

Sydney, (UNI) A first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup final beckons for England after the Lionesses mixed ruthless attacking football with defensive resilience and relentless energy to overcome Australia in a pulsating last-four clash.

Goals from Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo secured a historic triumph, with Sarina Wiegman’s team impressively re-asserting their superiority after Sam Kerr’s spectacular equaliser threatened to turn the tide in Sydney.

For Millie Bright, the Lionesses’ exceptional performance was reflective of the side’s precious ability to adapt to any circumstances and come out on top. She is now just one victory away from becoming the first England captain to lift a senior World Cup trophy since Bobby Moore in 1966.

“I’m really happy for the fans back home, for our nation,” she told FIFA. “It’s something that we’ve all been driving towards and it’s something that’s been missing. Now the opportunity we have is incredible.”

On England’s journey at Australia & New Zealand 2023 so far, Bright said: “You can win in many different ways and, for us, we’ve faced so many challenges at this tournament. It’s hard to for people to see on the outside, but as players, we know that there’s more to football than just pretty passes and connecting.”

“In each game, we’ve proved something different about how we play, what we’re capable of. We’re very adaptable to what teams throw at us. But things are really starting to click now and we’re getting the ball in the back of the net,” she said.

Wednesday’s semi-final clash was played in a thunderous atmosphere at Stadium Australia, with the vast majority of the roaring thousands fervently backing the co-hosts.

“I loved it,” said Rachel Daly. “Getting booed, that’s what footballers live for. We had [the UEFA Women’s EURO] at home last year, and had the other side of it, and this year we’re on the receiving end. But I think it’s brilliant and a true testament to the growth of women’s football to see the fans out there and the noise they made.”

The decibel levels went through the roof when Matildas icon Kerr levelled with a jaw-dropping long-range strike just after the hour-mark. England, however, quickly settled into their rhythm again, and they were back ahead eight minutes later through Hemp. Russo’s clinical finish then booked their final meeting with Spain.

“We’ve adjusted to everything that’s come at us and I think that’s been our biggest strength,” said centre-back Jess Carter. “I think we’ve faced every possibility we could have going throughout the tournament. We went a goal down against Colombia [in the quarter-finals] and came back from that. After Sam equalised for Australia, we knew we had to go up another level again and switch back on. That’s exactly what we did.”

Carter is a team-mate of Australia captain Kerr at Chelsea and admitted that being “switched on” at all times against the striker was a key priority.

The Aussie superstar was still able to make her mark, though, and captain Bright – another Chelsea player – paid tribute to her friend’s astonishing goal.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Sam,” said Bright, who was sporting Kerr’s shirt after swapping with her at full-time. “Australia pose a lot of threats and she’s not an easy player to keep quiet. Like you see, she gets one chance and it’s in the back of the net. I’ve wanted her shirt for a long time.”

“Australia are an incredible team. But for us, even if we concede, we’re confident enough in ourselves, and in our game plan, that we know we’re going to get another goal. You have got

to have that belief,” she added.

Attention will soon switch to Sunday’s showdown with Spain. Asked about the challenge Jorge Vilda’s team will provide, Carter said,“They’re going to be incredible on the ball. They have got some very technical players who are very intricate with how they play. We’re going to have to stay disciplined, be compact in our shape and be difficult to beat.”

Daly added, “They’re fantastic. They’re one of the best in the world for a reason. We just got to prepare for them as best we can, enjoy this win, and be ready to go again come Sunday.”

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