Alessia Russo was the hero for England as they reached a third-consecutive Women’s World Cup semi-final with a 2-1 win over Colombia.
Having struggled against Nigeria in the last 16 and been very fortunate not to lose in normal time before eventually advancing on penalties, all eyes were on England to see how they would react. There was a change to the starting XI to be made too, with Lauren James serving a two-game suspension for her red card against Nigeria, and the Chelsea forward was replaced by Ella Toone, who had started the first group game against Haiti.
After an initial attack from Colombia, England looked to strike early to bring some semblance of control that they didn’t have against Nigeria, and Russo a few good opportunities missed within a matter of moments. Although she was offside in the build up, it showed England’s intent and how dangerous Russo might be with her positioning if she got her finishing right.
It was a pretty even game, with both sides bringing the physicality, aided by the fact that the referee was letting things slide — both in terms of not calling fouls that should have been and being lenient with a yellow card decision or two, for both sides.
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Having ridden a wave of England control it was actually Colombia who took the lead just before half time, in a way that wouldn’t have been a surprise to some. Leicy Santos had the ball just outside the England box on the left, looking to run at Rachel Daly who was once again being played out of position at left wing-back. Daly did well enough but couldn’t stop Santos’ cross in which ended up floating over the head of Mary Earps and into the back of the net.
For fans of the England men’s team, comparisons were quickly made to David Seaman getting lobbed by Ronaldinho in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, while women’s football fans were quick to mention Caroline Weir’s name. The former Manchester City midfielder scored a handful of goals in the Manchester derby against Man Utd by chipping Earps from outside the box, and other players have had success too.
England fans will have been worried about their chances of getting back into the game following their struggles in front of goal against Nigeria and how well Colombia had been defending, packing the area just in front of their own box. But it was only a few minutes before England were level.
With Colombia looking to hold on until half time, England were allowed to keep hold of the ball and what had been a poor first touch by Russo eventually led to the goalkeeper spilling what should have been an easy collection. Russo kept the pressure on without fouling or kicking the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands and it fell to Lauren Hemp, who stabbed home. Hemp had had a good first half for England, but was only missing the end product, so it was a good moment for her and her team.
England started the second half brightly but did tail off, allowing Colombia to regain composure that may have been lost in conceding just before half time. However, after a period of sloppy play England found their quality and, more importantly, Russo found her shooting boots.
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It was a through ball by Georgia Stanway that managed to squeeze past the defender into Russo, and the Arsenal striker produced a fine first-time finish across the goalkeeper to give England the lead. Her second goal of the tournament, having also found the net in the rout of China, Russo has come under a lot of criticism from fans for her lack of goals this summer.
Despite not being given the No.9 shirt, Russo has been the first-choice striker for Sarina Wiegman this summer, picked ahead of Daly and Bethany England. In the first two games she cut an isolated figure but has come to life when giving an attacking partner in Hemp. In her five games so far at this World Cup, Russo has taken 17 shots with 11 hitting the target, the latter more than any other player at the tournament.
“Once again England capitalise on poor individual defending, but what a way for Russo to react like you want your centre forward to do,” Emma Hayes said on commentary.
“Full credit to Russo, she picks her spot and buries it. That’s just reward for the work she has put in.”
Former England and Chelsea striker added: “Alessia’s had to be patient. As a striker, I know sometimes it’s tough when you’re not always getting the run of play, but it’s about the weight of your goals, it’s when you get these moments.
“She gets a little bit of luck, great ball first of all from Alex Greenwood and that’s the rub of the green you get and then you make sure you finish it. Alessia’s had to be patient, it hasn’t always gone her way.
“She’s had to do a lot of dirty work, build up play, and she deserves that.”
England now face co-hosts Australia on Wednesday with both sides looking to reach the Women’s World Cup final for the first ever time.