Australia progresses to Women’s World Cup semifinals after penalty shootout win over France

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CNN
 — 

Australia reached the Women’s World Cup semifinals for the first time, sending a sell-out crowd in Brisbane into ecstasy, with an incredible penalty shootout victory over France.

The co-host had played in the quarterfinals on three previous occasions but had never made it beyond the last eight. On home soil, the Matildas’ fortunes changed and history was made in a thrilling conclusion to the match.

Cortnee Vine, the 20th penalty taker in the shootout, sealed victory, securing a 7-6 win on penalties and a tie against either England or Colombia.

France had a goal rightly disallowed in extra-time, and with neither side able to break the deadlock over 120 minutes this entertaining quarterfinal had to be decided on penalties.

Both teams missed from the spot in the shootout – but it was France’s four misses which proved the most costly, giving Vine the chance to end a tense shootout and spark wild celebrations among the Australian players in front of nearly 50,000 equally jubilant fans.

As the Matildas did a lap of honor around the pitch, fans danced, waved flags and cheered a team which has captured the imagination in the sport-loving country.

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson told reporters that he is “so freaking proud” of his team and thanked supporters. “You are part of this win,” he said, paying tribute to the crowd. “You belong to this team tonight, every single person in this country.”

It was a cruel way for France to lose, especially as Les Bleues had had plenty of opportunities to score during a match in which momentum switched from one team to the other throughout.

Ultimately, Vicki Bècho’s miss – the 19-year-old hit the post to present Vine with the opportunity to send her country into a frenzy – was the costliest of all.

But Mackenzie Arnold’s role must not be forgotten either. Having missed a chance herself to seal Australia’s progress during the shootout, the Australia goalkeeper bounced back to save Kenza Dali’s spot-kick. With the initial penalty having had to be retaken as the goalkeeper was deemed to have come off her goalline early, Arnold held her nerve to save Dali’s second effort.

France head coach Hervé Renard told reporters that “fate chose” a winner. “Tonight, we have to be proud of these girls who played an exceptional match,” he said. “It went from right to left, from left to right – to say who deserved it more is difficult.

“Congratulations to Australia, and congratulations to all the staff who have done a wonderful job.”

For a match with so much on the line, it was a surprisingly open encounter.

France started the brighter and was particularly dangerous during set pieces. Maelle Lakrar twice went close – incredibly shooting over the crossbar from four yards on one occasion – while France’s record goalscorer Eugénie Le Sommer forced a save from Arnold with France’s only shot on target in the first half.

As the half progressed, Australia gained in confidence and the decibels rose inside the partisan stadium.

Five minutes from half-time, the home team had the best opportunity of the match when Pauline Peyraud-Magnin came off her line with her defense scrambling. The ball fell for 20-year-old Mary Fowler whose eyes would’ve widened in the face of an open goal.

But as she shot at the target, France’s Élisa de Almeida raced across the goalline to block Fowler’s goalbound effort. It was incredible defending that stopped her team from falling behind.

France’s defense was worked harder after the break, especially when the 55th-minute introduction of superstar striker Sam Kerr added further impetus to the home team’s attack.

France's goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, centre, punches the ball away during the quarterfinal match.

Kerr had not featured in any of the group stage matches because of a calf injury and had made a brief appearance as a substitute in the last-16 win over Denmark, but despite a lack of game time in this tournament her impact was immediate in Brisbane.

It was Kerr’s driving run towards the box created space for Hayley Raso, whose shot from the edge of the box drew a diving save from Peyraud-Magnin.

Afterwards, Kerr told reporters: “I’m so happy, I can’t put it into words. It’s just a whirlwind, but really proud of the girls, it’s been a team effort, from the staff to the players and to the fans. I can’t believe it.

“We have so much belief. We are riding the wave of excitement and we are playing some of our best football. The girls are smashing it and it’s a team effort.

“It’s changing football in this nation for ever. The country is going nuts. And we’re loving It …”

For all of Australia and France’s endeavor, defenses held firm and the match went to extra-time. In the 99th minute, Wendie Renard headed the ball into the net but the goal was immediately disallowed as Australia’s Alanna Kennedy was fouled in the box as she attempted to defend the corner.

Substitute Vine then went close for Australia minutes later, the Matildas player stretching every sinew only for her outstretched leg to direct the ball inches wide, but her moment would come later.

With penalties looming, Renard substituted his goalkeepers, bringing on Solene Durand for Peyraud-Magnin, but the strategy failed to deliver as the tournament’s most thrilling match so far went Australia’s way.

Sumber: www.cnn.com

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