Coming into this Women’s World Cup, Sarina Wiegman never intended to play a strike partnership.

England head coach Wiegman is, in keeping with most of her profession these days, convinced of the benefits of playing one up front and flooding the midfield. When asked before the tournament whether she’d consider fielding two strikers together, she indicated it was a last resort to be used when England were trailing.

But, for various reasons, it has made sense.

The absence of Keira Walsh for the middle group game against China two weeks ago convinced Wiegman to switch to a back three and use two holding midfielders. It worked, so it has stayed that way ever since, even after Walsh’s return from injury. It’s a system that allows Wiegman to still play three central midfielders and also have the luxury of two up front.

Maybe the most surprising thing is not merely that England have ended up playing with a strike duo, but that the strike duo is comprised of Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp.

To those who haven’t seen much of this team before, it must be peculiar that Wiegman fields somebody who is a striker at club level, Rachel Daly, at wing-back and a winger at club level, Hemp, as a striker.

But it’s all come together excellently.

In Saturday’s quarter-final against Colombia, England came back from a goal down to win the game 2-1 thanks to a poacher’s finish from Hemp and then a powerful Russo strike from the right channel. And in today’s 3-1 semi-final win over co-hosts Australia, they won thanks to a poacher’s finish from Hemp and then a powerful Russo strike from the right channel.

Wiegman was straight-to-the-point afterwards about why she’s so pleased with their contributions.

“They’re scoring goals!” she laughed. “Which is nice. And they want to work really hard for the team and they do it together, too. I think they are complementary in their qualities.”

Like most strike partnerships, that’s the key. Russo and Hemp offer completely different things.

Russo is a powerful, ‘proper’ centre-forward — capable of using her body well, coming short to link play and also good at attacking crosses with runs across the near post. Hemp, as a converted winger, is a natural at sprinting in behind and stretching the play. They work so well because they’re so different.

When asked about that idea afterwards, Hemp agreed — although she was also keen to point out that while they’re different in footballing terms, they are similar away from the pitch. “My connection with Alessia is so strong,” said the Manchester City player. “We’re both really laid-back people and we work well and complement each other’s strengths. We’re both so different that we just work so well together.

“She’s a fantastic player to play alongside — I know whenever I get it she’s going to be there and throughout the tournament, we’ve built a really good connection on and off the ball, so she’s a great person to be my strike partner.”

The crowning moment of their partnership, of course, came with England’s third goal today.

Hemp came short before dribbling at a back line that was slightly disorganised after a tactical switch to put more resources into attack as Australia chased an equaliser. She knew exactly what run Russo would make, to the extent she was able to throw in a no-look pass to trick her opponents. Once she slipped the ball in behind, Russo was using the muscle memory from that winner against Colombia.

“England played more direct in transition than normal,” said Australia coach Tony Gustavsson. “They were good on the break when we forced them to be on the break, with their two 10s and two 9s… England were more efficient than us and that’s why they won.”

England are into their first Women’s World Cup final (Naomi Baker – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Those two No 10s, by which Gustavsson means Ella Toone and Georgia Stanway, actually offered England’s greatest goal threats in the opening stages of the match. Russo and Hemp played selflessly, dragging their centre-backs around and allowing Toone and Stanway to breeze through the Australian defence, with Stanway having the night’s first clear chance.

But in the second half, the two England attackers offered the greater goal threats themselves.

Hemp, named player of the match, feels reborn in this central striker role having been slightly peripheral in England’s victorious European Championship campaign last year.

“She’s been like that the last few games,” said Toone. “She is just a nuisance. She runs in behind, she comes to feet, she’s fast and she’s strong. I think she would be a nightmare to play against and she’s shown that today with a goal and an assist.”

Suddenly, Hemp is England’s key player. “I feel like I came into this competition with so much belief,” she said afterwards. “I just want to be fearless. I want to show what I can do on the world’s biggest stage. As a group, everyone has got the best out of me and everyone is pushing me to try to be better.

“Taking up a new role in the team, running in behind players, getting the ball, creating something — I just feel really fearless at the moment. I’m playing some of my best football. There’s still so much more to show.”

The next opportunity to show it will be in Sunday’s final, against a Spain side who will be intent on dominating possession.

Gustavsson suggested England played more direct in transition than normal in this semi-final, but that pattern will surely be even more exaggerated against Spain’s tiki-taka and high defensive line.

Jorge Vilda’s side have looked vulnerable to counter-attacks and speed in behind so far throughout this tournament, particularly in a 4-0 group-stage loss to Japan and at times in their 2-1 extra-time win over the Netherlands in the last eight.

Bearing that in mind, in Hemp and Russo, England might have the ideal front two.

(Top photo: Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)