Lauren Hemp’s greatest performance torments Australia

With a goal and a part in two others, the forward caused Australia problems all night and took England a step closer to World Cup glory

Australia 1 England 3

Lauren Hemp did not even need to look at the ball when she played the crucial pass that allowed Alessia Russo to clinically crush Australia’s dreams and propel England into their first Women’s World Cup final.

After collecting the ball in her own half and running at a terrified Matildas defence, the best player on the pitch had the poise to play the deft through ball that finally silenced the deafening 75,784 crowd.

Deservedly named the player of the match, Hemp certainly found a useful time to produce her best performance to date in an England shirt. The Manchester City forward, who only turned 23 earlier this month, has always shown huge promise and potential, but this historic night in Sydney was the night that the girl from Norfolk came of age at international level, with a performance to make an entire nation proud.

She was not the only one who played superbly well, of course, in what was genuinely a magnificent team effort from England, defying a cauldron of Australian noise and showing huge resilience to reach English football’s first global final since 1966. Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter’s mammoth defensive efforts, Ella Toone and Russo’s fine finishing, and Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway’s control of the midfield all helped the European champions knock out the co-hosts in this gripping semi-final. But Hemp, also the scorer of England’s second goal, applied the coup de grace.

England's Lauren Hemp, left, and Australia's Clare Polkinghorne challenge for the ball during the Women's World Cup semifinal soccer match between Australia and England

Hemp made herself a nuisance to Australian defenders all game Credit: AP/Abbie Parr

Toone, who expertly powered England in front in the first half after Hemp and Russo had combined to provide the cut-back for her to strike into the top corner with the outside of her boot, said Hemp must be a “nightmare” to defend against. “She has been like that the last few games,” she said. “She is just a nuisance. She runs in behind, she comes to feet, she is fast and she is strong.”

That pace and strength caused problems all evening for Australia’s back four, and Hemp got her call through persistence and composure. Millie Bright sent up a long ball towards the penalty area and, under pressure from Hemp, Lyon right-back Ellie Carpenter failed to clear the danger and the former Bristol City player punished her with a deadly finish.

Lauren Hemp of England scores her team's second goal

Hemp’s was the best England player on the pitch Credit: Getty Images/Sajad Imanian

“I came into this competition with so much belief, and I just want to be fearless,” Hemp said after the game. “I just want to show what I can show on the world’s biggest stage. As a group, everyone has brought the best out of me. Everyone is pushing me to try and be better.”

Hemp, who has spent much of her career playing out wide as a winger, has been deployed through the middle for England in this tournament since their switch to a 3-5-2 formation and she added: “I’ve sort of taken up a new role, I guess, in the team, running in behind players and getting the ball, creating something, and I feel really fearless at the moment. I feel like I’m playing some of my best football. Obviously there’s so much more still to show, but as a group we’re going in the right direction and personally I’m pleased with my performance but I’m so proud of the team.”

The timing of Hemp’s goal was particularly vital, coming shortly after Chelsea striker Sam Kerr had sent the vast majority of those packed inside Sydney’s Olympic stadium into raptures and sparked wild scenes of celebration in the many packed fan parks across Australia when she equalised in the second half with a rocket from range that flew past Mary Earps. For the Matildas captain, it seemed the script was perfectly set for her strike to propel them to glory, but England and Hemp provided a killer plot twist to book a meeting with Spain in Sunday’s final in Sydney, back in the same stadium.

It came at a time when England were coming under real pressure and the Matildas should have equalised at 2-2 after Hemp’s goal, with Kerr volleying over from six yards amidst a tidal-wave of noise from the home fans, who were sensing a dramatic comeback. But England stood firm. As Australia’s Swedish manager Tony Gustavsson said afterwards: “It takes one moment and England were more clinical than we were in the finishing. We had three sitters to make it 2-2. Then, one ball behind and it’s game over.”

Asked to sum up her emotions, with England having won a World Cup semi-final at their consecutive attempt after narrow losses to Japan and the United States in 2015 and 2019 respectively, Hemp added: “Oh my god, what a feeling. I feel like there are no words to describe what we all feel right now. It’s an unbelievable achievement, getting to a World Cup final. It’s every kid’s dream. We’ve got a few days to recover but then we go again. We want to win this, now we’ve come so far now, so why not?

“As a team we have got such an inner-belief and also so much confidence as the group. No matter what happens on the outside, no matter who we come up against, every challenge we’ve managed to solve. Every game, we’ve managed to compete and we’ve managed to come out on top. This team is so special. You saw last year how successful we were. We want to do the same again and we want to go one step further. We have all got a dream.”

That dream is now closer than ever to reality. England are now one win away from footballing immortality, and Spain will know: If they want to stop England, they must somehow stop Hemp.