England fought back to overcome a tenacious Colombia side roared on by a boisterous crowd in Sydney to set up a semi-final against co-hosts Australia on Wednesday.
Colombia, appearing in their first-ever quarter-final, approached the game in robust fashion, with 18-year-old Linda Caicedo operating on the left of a front three their most potent attacking threat.
As in their previous knockout game against Nigeria, England again lacked some fluency at times but went in level at 1-1 at half-time, benefiting from a goalkeeping error from Colombia’s Catalina Perez that allowed Lauren Hemp to score in added time following Leicy Santos’ effort that looped over Mary Earps. Alessia Russo then scored the winner to allow the Lionesses to progress.
Our women’s football reporter Charlotte Harpur is joined by Jacob Whitehead to analyse this quarter-final from Stadium Australia.
Goalkeeping has been better than ever this World Cup — but rare mistakes define first-half
As explained by The Athletic earlier this week, this World Cup has seen outstanding goalkeeping performances from players such as Sweden’s Zecira Musovic, Jamaica’s Becky Spencer and Haiti’s Kerly Theus. What has also been remarkable is the level of goalkeeping from supposedly smaller nations — showing the rapid rate of development across global football.
This was why it was so surprising to see a first half defined by two goalkeeping errors.
Arguably, Mary Earps was unlucky. Named Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper 2022 in February, she was wrong-footed by Leicy Santos’ effort for the game’s opening goal. Was it a mis-hit cross or inspired dink? The former seems more likely.
The ball looped over Earps with shades of Ronaldinho and David Seaman in the 2002 Men’s World Cup — but if there was a problem with Earps’ positioning it was only minor. She was set at 45 degrees for the cross and was just half a metre off her line. The space for the ball to fit between the bar and her outstretched hand was tiny. Ultimately, however, it is not a position where a goalkeeper should concede from.
If there was doubt over whether Earps’ was a mistake, Catalina Perez made an undeniable error. The Colombia ‘keeper has had an outstanding tournament — an average goalkeeper would have been expected to have conceded 0.54 more goals per match, based on the quality of shots faced. That is the fifth-best record in the tournament.
England had struggled to finish chances themselves — Rachel Daly had one particularly good headed opportunity saved and a shot from range flash over the bar in the first half — and so were indebted to Perez’s error. She twice attempted to claim a simple ball on the floor and twice fumbled, allowing Lauren Hemp to smash into an empty net, and was later withdrawn through injury in the second half.
How England tried to stop Linda Caicedo
At 14, Colombia winger Linda Caicedo was the top scorer in the country’s domestic league. At 15, England centre-back Jess Carter had only ever played grassroots football, joining Birmingham City’s academy later that year. At that point, rugby was Carter’s main sport.
Here, the two were directly matched up in a World Cup quarter-final. With England dominating the ball, and Colombia attempting to strike in transition, this was the game’s key match-up.
Caicedo has been one of the young stars of this tournament, alongside England’s Lauren James — suspended, of course, for this game — Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay and Australia’s Kyra Cooney-Cross. Caicedo has already scored twice this tournament, including a stunner against Germany.
So far this tournament, England have not necessarily had to game plan for a specific player — that changed today. With Sarina Wiegman sticking with a back three, it was the job of Carter, as the right-sided centre-back, to pick her up. From England’s perspective, it was a decent match-up — Carter is England’s most athletic defender and best at one-vs-ones.
The Chelsea player won the initial duels, shrugging the 18-year-old Caicedo off the ball on her first touch. In response, Caicedo drifted into other areas to find the ball — exploiting right wing-back Lucy Bronze’s desire to get forward.
It was after dropping deep that Caicedo had her best moment of the first-half, getting up to speed early and exploiting Carter’s need to turn. Her chop-turn inside led to a good sight of goal — but the shot was blazed over.
For the most part, England managed to contain her — though the threat was always there.
In the second half, with Colombia pushing for an equaliser, Caicedo led a quick break upfield after an England corner. Carter’s positioning was perfect. Backpedalling, she both pushed Caicedo wide and blocked her cross — closing down Colombia’s best opportunity in the game’s closing stages.
England’s big-game experience essential
England have played five knockout fixtures in major tournaments in just over 12 months — their composure in these situations showed.
The freak nature of Colombia’s opener could have easily seen England retreat. Instead, they calmly continued to trust in their system — and were rewarded with Hemp’s equaliser seven minutes later. Yes, it was an error — but it was England’s pressure which sparked it.
The Lionesses’ experience against Spain in the Euros quarter-final last summer — where they equalised late in similar circumstances — was demonstrably a formative experience. In contrast, this was just Colombia’s second World Cup knockout game in their history.
After Russo put England ahead on 63 minutes, England reacted calmly. Colombia had an initial period of pressure, but after an initial flurry, Wiegman’s side continued to control possession. Against Nigeria, the coach was criticised for not making changes until the 88th minute (after Lauren James’ red card).
Russo finds a way
Remember Russo’s goal scored against Northern Ireland in the European Championship group stages on the half turn? It was a delightful move: swift, seamless and symbolic of a player full of confidence.
We have not seen that quality or style of play from England’s starting No 9. Instead she has followed Wiegman’s instructions to be Ellen White’s replacement, something more of a workhorse.
She has fought tooth and nail, battling for the ball, holding up play well. The new Arsenal signing was alive for England’s first goal, allowing Lauren Hemp to toepoke home. But when goalscoring opportunities have fallen to her, at times it has looked like she was trying too hard. For instance, against Nigeria, after a poor defensive error, Russo lacked composure when in front of goal.
This time, Russo made no mistake. When Georgia Stanway thread a line-breaking pass, the England striker pounced on the Colombia defender Daniela Arias’ mistake, maintained her balance and struck her spot sweetly to score the winning goal.
England’s route to glory
Having overcome Colombia in the quarter-finals, co-hosts Australia await England in the semi-finals.
Tony Gustavsson’s side were the ones who ended the Lionesses’ 30-game unbeaten streak in April when they defeated them 2-0 in a friendly in Brentford, west London. They exposed England and were deserved winners.
The tournament’s poster girl Sam Kerr was a constant threat throughout, especially for then-England captain Leah Williamson before she was ruled out of the World Cup with injury. The Chelsea striker scored and assisted either side of half-time.
If — and it’s a big if — England can overcome Australia to reach the final, Spain or Sweden will lie in wait.
(Top photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)