Football Features

Lauren Hemp steps up to send England to a first ever Women’s World Cup final

By Harry Edwards

Published: 13:20, 16 August 2023

Lauren Hemp was the star of the show as England beat Australia 3-1 to reach the Women’s World Cup final for the first ever time.

With a rivalry that covers various sports, from cricket to rugby to netball, build up for this World Cup semi-final was massive. The hosts of the tournaments searching for a dream final, against the European champions looking to add the World Cup to their trophy cabinet and end a semi-final curse.

The Lionesses have been in the semi-finals of the World Cup in each of the past three editions, but they had never made it to the final. In 2015 they were beaten 2-1 by Japan thanks to Laura Bassett’s injury-time own goal and four years later it was heartbreak against USA, a game that saw England have a goal ruled out by the minutest of offsides and then miss a late penalty.

In fact, England have made it to the semi-finals of their past five major tournaments, also losing to Netherlands in the final four of Euro 2017 — who, of course, were led by one Sarina Wiegman.

But Wiegman has the magic touch. Because now England have reached back-to-back finals and could become the third nation to be defending European and world champions, after Norway in 1995 and Germany in 2003 and 2007.

Across men’s and women’s football, Wiegman is the only manager to reach a European Championship final with two different nations and now the only manager to reach a World Cup final with two different nations.

Helmut Schön (Germany Men), Vicente del Bosque (Spain Men), Silvia Neid (Germany Women), Even Pellerud (Norway Women) and Tina Theune (Germany Women) are the only managers to win both tournaments.

If England beat Spain in the 2023 World Cup final, not only will Wiegman make it six, but she will become the first manager to win two major tournaments with two different nations. Her 2017 EUROs victory with the Netherlands alongside a World Cup win with England would cement her place as one of the all-time greats.

It was a fantastic first half with both sides attacking equally, but England were the team to take the lead going into the break thanks to Ella Toone. After good work from Hemp and Alessia Russo down the left, the latter showed good awareness to cut the ball back to her former Manchester United teammate Toone, who rifled home a first-time effort into the top corner.

Another big goal for Toone, who had also found the net in the Euro 2022 quarter-final win over Spain and the Euro 2022 final, in a tournament where she hadn’t been at her best, only regaining her spot in the starting XI following Lauren James’ red card against Nigeria.

England’s lead lasted until just after the hour mark when Sam Kerr performed her party piece. The Australian legend was making her first start at her home World Cup having suffered injury on the eve of the tournament and she took her chance against a goalkeeper she loves facing. Picking up the ball on the edge of her own half, Kerr faced up against club teammate Millie Bright who backed up enough for Kerr to get a shooting opportunity.

From range, Kerr sent a rocket over the head of Mary Earps, a goalkeeper she has now scored 10 goals in 10 games against for club and country. But it would only be a consolation strike, as Hemp stepped up again.

Less than 10 minutes later, Hemp got onto the end of a long ball over the top from Bright, putting pressure on Australian defender Ellie Carpenter who had dallied on the ball. Nicking it, Hemp sent the ball low into the far bottom corner for her third strike of the World Cup. After a slightly underwhelming season for club and country by her own high standards, this was Hemp at her best.

And she wasn’t done there, with Hemp playing a beautiful ball through the defence to Russo who made it 3-1 late on, sealing the historic World Cup final place. Last year it was Tooney and Lessi Russo, this time around it’s the partnership of Hemp and Russo that has been crucial for England, marking the tactical switch from Wiegman for the game against China.

“I think the two hardest working forward players that we have in this World Cup [are Hemp and Russo],” said Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall during BBC Sport coverage.

“Together they never give up. They hunt down every ball down to the last inch and it paid off two games in a row.”

England have also now had five players score at least three goals at single Women’s World Cup tournaments, with three of them coming in 2023.

The first was Kelly Smith who netted four in 2007, then Ellen White scored six in 2019, before Hemp and Russo joined James for three in 2023. History made all over the pitch, this was a moment for England fans to cherish, a first senior World Cup final since 1966.

“I can’t even put into words, I was up in the stands with Kelly Smith and we were just sat up there looking at the stadium. The noise in the stadium has been electric,” England’s record appearance maker Fara Williams said after the game.

“We thought if only we had the opportunity to play in front of 85,000 fans. we would have dreamed to do that and these players get to do that and they’ve had the opportunity to do it. A year ago in the Euros final at Wembley and I thought it couldn’t get much better.

“Today with the atmosphere here and the way the players have performed, it has blown me away.

“So excited for the final now.”

She added: “They have a mentality that I’ve never seen before in an England team.”