England reached the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history as goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze fired the Lionesses past host nation Canada.
The game could hardly have started better for England as two early goals proved too much for Canada to overturn. Jodie Taylor opened the scoring, taking advantage of Canada defender Lauren Sesselmann’s slip to find the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area. The celebrations of the first goal had barely ceased when Lucy Bronze replicated her heroics from the Round of 16 victory over Norway by guiding a looping header over Erin McLeod, the Canada keeper, from Fara Williams’ free-kick. Those goals came largely against the run of play, however, and Taylor’s Portland Thorns teammate Christine Sinclair pulled a goal back shortly before half-time, capitalising on Karen Bardsley spilling a cross from Ashley Lawrence to tap into an empty net.
Sinclair was very much the poster girl of the tournament, with an entire nation’s hopes pinned on her, but despite her vast experience she was unable to find her best form in a World Cup held in her own country. Nevertheless she looked the most likely among the Canadian team to produce a goal and nearly created the opener after nine minutes, cutting inside Claire Rafferty, the England left-back, and playing a beautiful cross-field pass to forward Melissa Tancredi who wasted a great shooting chance by blazing her effort over the bar. Sesselmann never looked comfortable at the back, so it was little surprise that it was her error that led to England’s opener, though Jodie Taylor still had a lot to do, and followed up her game-changing substitute appearance against Norway with a commanding performance from the start. Katie Chapman nearly put England three goals ahead before Sinclair’s goal, as she sent a looping header of her own onto the bar. Taylor brought the best out of McLeod after the break with a curling shot that looked to be creeping inside the far past, but the keeper produced a sublime save to tip the ball to safety.
England keeper Bardsley had to be taken off injured midway through the second-half after a blow to her eye proved too severe for her to continue. Arsenal’s Siobhan Chamberlain was her replacement – and is likely to replace Bardsley in the starting line-up for the semi-final if the Manchester City keeper is unable to recover in time – but she was never seriously tested as Canada offered little attacking prowess in spite of having the vast majority of possession. Sophie Schmidt wasted her side’s best opening by slamming a volley clear of the bar after latching on to Adriana Leon’s cross.
Mark Sampson’s Lionesses will play World Cup holders Japan for a place in the final. The reigning champions are known for an attacking style which tends to result in high-scoring matches. England will be the rank outsiders to win the tournament from this point, with the two powerhouses of international women’s football, Germany and the United States, locking horns in the other semi-final. However it is worth noting that Japan had never been beyond the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup prior to their winning campaign in 2011. England have already made history by getting this far, but an appearance in a World Cup final would be truly massive for women’s football in this country.