Lauren Hemp feels England are thriving under the pressure of entering their Euro 2025 qualifiers as first-time defending champions.

The Lionesses could only muster a 1-1 draw with Sweden to open their qualifying campaign on Friday night at Wembley, with the Republic of Ireland to come on Tuesday, then France to conclude the competition’s first window.

Friday marked the first meeting between England and Sweden since their semi-final at Euro 2022, when England triumphed 4-0 en route to the Wembley final and their first major tournament trophy.

Asked if having a bigger target on the Lionesses’ backs is to their benefit, Hemp replied: “Yes. It’s great for us. We are European champions, and we want to keep that, so it’s important for us to win as many games as possible and get ourselves back in and among it.

“It’s good to have people come up and be like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got England’, that’s what we want to be. We want to be a hard-working team, hard to beat. I think it’s great having that.”

Friday’s stalemate was certainly a much more even encounter between World Cup runners-up England and last summer’s bronze medallists, with Peter Gerhardsson’s side at times looking like the stronger opponent, particularly towards the closing stages of the first half.

Alessia Russo nodded home a fine Lauren James delivery to put her side in front inside 24 minutes, but the Arsenal forward’s maiden Wembley goal was cancelled out by Fridolina Rolfo after the break and the Lionesses could not find a winner in a late-stage rally.

It might have even been worse for England, who breathed a sigh of relief when Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius – fresh off scoring last Sunday’s League Cup winner – squandered a golden chance for Sweden to take the lead earlier in the half.

In a new-look format, the top two sides in each of the four top-tier groups will directly book places at next summer’s European finals in Switzerland, while the remainder will be entered into a play-off round with teams from lower divisions.

On paper, the Lionesses’ group might be the toughest they have ever encountered in qualifying, but Hemp added: “I think for me I find it quite exciting. I want to play in tough games. I think as a group we’re so confident at the moment that we’re ready to take on anyone. We saw the group and my first thought was, ‘bring it on’. I think we are all like that.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman conceded she was “disappointed” after her defending champions could only manage a 1-1 draw with Sweden to kick off their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign at Wembley.

Alessia Russo nodded home Lauren James’ delivery to open the scoring in the 24th minute, but it was the visitors who looked likelier to score as half-time approached.

The Lionesses preserved their lead until the 64th minute, when England’s concentration switched off and allowed Fridolina Rolfo to drift in and nod substitute Rosa Kafaji’s delivery past Mary Earps.

Wiegman said: “I think this group is really tough. Of course I’m disappointed, because we always want to win.

“I think we scored a great goal, there was momentum in the game, we played well and we kept the ball a little longer.

“Second half I thought the goal was really unnecessary. They scored because we gave away a throw-in and from that throw-in we weren’t able to take out the cross and they scored from that. That was disappointing.

“As we see Sweden is a very tough opponent. I do think we could have done a couple of things better, but also showed Sweden gave us a hard time at the moment.

“We just want to learn from these games, we want to do better every game as other countries want to do too. I think it just shows how close and how tight our competition is.”

England were perhaps lucky that Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius, who provided the winning strike in the Gunners’ League Cup final victory on Sunday, did not decide another contest this week.

She came achingly close when she found herself one-on-one with Earps shortly after the equaliser, instead directing her effort just wide of the England goalkeeper’s right post.

Wiegman made four second-half changes and staged a late rally, but were unable to find the finishing touch before the whistle blew on three minutes of added time.

Leah Williamson, who captained the Lionesses to their European triumph at Wembley in 2022, watched the entirety of the contest from the bench, almost a year out from her last England appearance.

The Arsenal defender, who was ruled out of last summer’s World Cup after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament, has experienced a number of setbacks since returning to the Gunners in January.

Wiegman, however, was quick to confirm her decision to bench the 27-year-old had nothing to do with fitness concerns that plagued Williamson in the build-up to these qualifiers, after she was substituted in the second half of the League Cup final.

She firmly stated: “She is not injured otherwise she would not have been in the squad, and I would have told you that she was injured.”

The England boss also disagreed with speculation by some pundits that she had prematurely substituted her goalscorer, who was swapped for Chloe Kelly in the 79th minute, explaining: “Alessia played well but tactically we wanted to change a couple of things. We brought Lauren Hemp inside. We just wanted something a little bit different.”

The last time these two sides faced each other was in the semi-finals of Euro 2022, when Russo memorably scored an audacious backheel in the 4-0 victory to earn a nomination for FIFA’s goal of the year.

Friday’s meeting was a much closer affair, with Sweden boss Peter Gerhardsson later revealing he was pleased by the way his side’s plan to shut down England midfielder Keira Walsh – who wore the captain’s armband – had worked.

He said: “It’s one point each now, and it’s five more games. We don’t know what is going to happen.”

Defending champions England kicked off their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sweden in front of 63,248 at Wembley.

Alessia Russo nodded home Lauren James’ delivery to open the scoring inside 24 minutes, and the Lionesses managed to preserve their lead at the break despite Sweden threatening.

An equaliser felt imminent after the interval, and finally came when Fridolina Rolfo headed past Mary Earps, while the Lionesses were lucky not to fall behind when Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius squandered a good chance for Sweden.

Euro 2022 captain Leah Williamson watched on from the bench as Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp led a late rally, but could not find the finishing touch as the sides settled for a point.

Williamson missed out on the Lionesses’ historic World Cup campaign last summer after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament, and was also forced to pull out of February’s friendlies with a hamstring issue after being named in her first England side in 11 months.

The 27-year-old made her Gunners comeback in January but the journey has not been smooth with her most recent setback coming during Sunday’s League Cup final, which she started with a taped-up knee before being replaced in the second half.

Grace Clinton tried to volley England into an early lead, and there was worry for Sarina Wiegman when Russo went down after clattering into former Chelsea skipper Magdalena Eriksson, receiving lengthy treatment to her lower leg before she was deemed fit to continue.

Barcelona’s Rolfo came close with Sweden’s first good chance, sending Earps sprawling with a low effort that edged just wide of the far post minutes before Russo broke the deadlock.

It began with a fine effort by James to control the ball at the edge of the area and deliver a pinpoint clipped cross to the awaiting Russo, who stooped to head home in the 24th minute.

Sweden looked to reply on several occasions and largely looked the more threatening side in the half’s closing stages, but England clung on to their lead as Wiegman made her first change, swapping Clinton for Ella Toone, before Lucy Bronze had a weak header simply saved by Jennifer Falk.

Sweden boss Peter Gerhardsson made a pair of his own changes, a move that proved prescient when England momentarily switched off and allowed substitute Rosa Kafaji to make an instant impact, delivering the cross for Rolfo to nod past Earps.

England were lucky not to concede a quick second when Arsenal’s Blackstenius, who netted the winner in the Gunners’ Conti Cup final, found herself one-on-one with Earps but directed her effort wide.

On came more Euro 2022 stars – that tournament’s Golden Boot winner Mead in place of James and Chloe Kelly, who memorably scored the winner in that tournament’s final, while Jess Carter replaced Chelsea team-mate Niamh Charles.

The Lionesses had less than 10 minutes to alter the outcome, and they came close when Hemp latched on to the rebound of her own effort and fired a shot that Falk, who had slide out to make the initial save, would have had no chance of stopping.

It took a well-placed Eriksson to clear off the line, the stalemate standing after a fine save from Falk to deny Mead and preserve the point.

Alessia Russo scored the only goal to hand Arsenal a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the north London derby in front of another sold out crowd.

The Gunners sold out the Emirates Stadium for a second straight game as 60,050 watched the hosts keep the pressure on in the Women’s Super League title battle.

Russo provided the winning moment four minutes after the break, lashing home from six yards after being set up by England team-mate Beth Mead.

Manchester United lost further ground on the top three as they were held to a 1-1 draw at West Ham.

Rachel Williams gave the visitors a fourth-minute lead with her 50th WSL goal.

But Viviane Asseyi equalised five minutes from time to leave Marc Skinner’s side nine points behind third-placed Arsenal.

Emma Koivisto scored twice as Liverpool beat Aston Villa 4-1.

Grace Fisk’s deflected strike in the 19th minute gave Liverpool a lead and Sophie Roman Haug added a second before Sarah Mayling pulled one back from the penalty spot.

Koivisto made it 3-1 on the hour mark and added a fourth with eight minutes left as the Reds moved level on points with Manchester United.

Brighton beat rock-bottom Bristol City 7-3 to move eight points clear of the relegation spot.

Elisabeth Terland opened the scoring in the 20th minute and Pauline Bremer added another four minutes later to give the away side a 2-0 lead heading into the break.

City got on the scoresheet through Megan Connolly but Terland’s second of the day combined with Tatiana Pinto’s strike put Brighton 4-1 up.

Two goals in three minutes from Brooke Aspin and Amalie Thestrup brought Bristol City right back into the contest.

But any hopes of a sensational comeback were wiped out when Madison Haley struck in the 89th minute before Vicky Losada and Katie Robinson added further goals in stoppage time.

Jude Bellingham, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alessia Russo have all fed into the design of the latest edition of Adidas' iconic Predator boot.

Meanwhile, the legacies of Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham – who helped make the boot famous in the 1990s and 2000s – have formed a key part of the "DNA" of the newest design, according to Adidas' category director for football footwear, Mahsa Aryan.

Bellingham has been wearing Predators during his incredible rise to superstardom at Real Madrid, while Liverpool's Alexander-Arnold joined Adidas' stable of athletes late last year.

Both of the England internationals have had their say in the design of the Predator 24, while England and Arsenal women star Russo has also given her feedback in what Aryan described as a "super close" working relationship.

Aryan told Stats Perform: "Over the years, I think where we have been able to succeed has been staying super close to our professional players.

"They obviously have a different level of understanding of how the game is evolving and obviously what their needs are as a result of that evolution and so we stay very closely connected to our clubs, to our key players and make sure we're having a constant conversation of what's working or what's not working.


"What's been really fun about the Predator 24 is we've had a lot of conversations throughout the creation, right from basically inception, all the way to the final sign-off that we had on the boots.

"We've had constant conversations with Jude, with the likes of Russo as well, so also the women's game [is] definitely just as important, and with Trent, obviously, he is a new key face who we're super excited to have and super excited that he wants to be such a key part of our launch of Predator."

However, Aryan stressed how keen Adidas were to remain connected to the past, with Zidane in particular playing a key role.

"But we've also maintained and stayed connected to our previous icons," she added: "So I had the pleasure of sitting down and really discussing the Predator 24, and future, with Zidane, for example, and getting a lot of his thoughts, not just from the perspective of an iconic player of the past, but what he sees in the game now.


"When you think back into the late 90s, into the early 2000s, there were a lot of, let's call it disruptive players for football footwear, and you could see that was really the evolution of the old style of football, going into the new style.

"It was like the last generation of when football was all about power and all about the specific set pieces and now it's become so much more dynamic. I think those personalities are heavily driven into what the Predator has been, but also the DNA of it, definitely coming from the Zidanes and Beckhams of the world."

The Predators have certainly helped Bellingham thrive at Madrid this campaign. The midfielder has already scored a remarkable 17 goals in just 24 games across all competitions, while adding a further six assists. Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, has set up eight goals for Liverpool with his quality deliveries.

Martha Thomas’ ninth goal of the season fired Tottenham to a maiden victory over Arsenal in the Women’s Super League.

Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal entered this fixture eyeing an eighth consecutive league win, but the day belonged to his fellow Swedish coach Robert Vilahamn, who claimed a statement result at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Under the watchful eye of Spurs men’s boss Ange Postecoglou and chairman Daniel Levy, Vilahamn’s team held firm during a tight first half and produced a superb team move in the 58th minute, which was expertly finish by Thomas.

The visitors pushed for a late response, but could not find a way through to hand Tottenham a 1-0 win and a first triumph over their rivals at the eighth time of asking in the WSL.

The two rivals warmed up for this league fixture with an entertaining 3-3 draw in the Conti Cup on Wednesday, but chances were far and far between in the opening stages.

It took until the 12th minute for the first opportunity of note when a Caitlin Foord effort deflected wide to earn Arsenal a corner.

Eidevall’s side produced a neat short corner routine and it should have resulted in the opener, but Alessia Russo inexplicably headed wide from four-yards.

Spurs had shipped 11 goals in their last two WSL matches, which saw Vilahamn hand Barbora Votikova a first league start and the post came to her rescue soon after when Foord again cut inside and rifled a shot against the woodwork.

Tottenham were forced to replace centre-back Luana Buhler minutes later before Arsenal had penalty appeals waved away after Beth Mead went down after contact from Ashleigh Neville.

The hosts were able to regroup afterwards though and Celin Bizet posed questions of the visitors defence with two dangerous runs down the right.

Arsenal still looked the more threatening and Votikova saved well from Frida Maanum not long after Foord had directed another effort off target to ensure it remained goalless at the break.

Bethany England, only recently back from hip surgery, was withdrawn at the break but it was the away side who came out with better intent.

Russo squandered another fine headed opportunity from a Mead cross after 50 minutes before Votikova saved well from long-range efforts by McCabe and Maanum.

Molly Batrip brilliantly blocked a Mead shot moments later and it appeared Arsenal were edging closer to the breakthrough, but they were stunned by the hosts in the 58th minute.

Under pressure at the back, Tottenham kept their composure brilliantly and six passes after Votikova had possession inside her own penalty area, Vilahamn’s team were down the other end and Thomas had poked home following Bizet’s perfectly-weighted pass.

Arsenal immediately set about finding a response and Votikova saved Russo’s volley before Eidevall turned to his bench with Vivianne Miedema and top-goalscorer Stina Blackstenius introduced.

The game had to be paused in the 83rd minute owing to a medical emergency in the designated away end and while Miedema hooked over in the first minute of 11 added on, Spurs held on for a memorable win.

Manchester United midfielder Ella Toone joked she probably “won’t be best friends” with former team-mate Alessia Russo when the pair meet in the Women’s Super League on Friday night.

After spending three seasons in Manchester, Russo swapped the Red Devils for Arsenal in the summer, joining the north London outfit on a free transfer.

The 24-year-old striker now makes a quick return to her old stomping ground when United host the Gunners at Leigh Sports Village and her childhood friend Toone knows exactly what a threat her England colleague poses.

“We speak every day but we’ve not spoken about (Friday’s) game as such, probably not something we will speak about either,” Toone told the PA news agency.

“I’m sure we won’t be best friends for those 90 minutes, but I’m sure as soon as the game’s done we’ll be back to normal!

“In football that’s what happens, people move on and Alessia’s coming back to where she started her WSL career now so it’s exciting for everyone who’s there.

“For us we don’t want her to score, we know what kind of player she is, she’s unbelievable on the ball. We’ll really try and stop her threats.

“It’s going to be different, I remember the last time we were up against each other was probably when she was in the Chelsea youth and I think I was in Blackburn academy. That was one of the only times we did come up against each other.

“It’s always nice when you come up against people who you know, you know what they’re like as players and you know how to try and stop them. She’s going to come back to where she started and it’ll be nice to see her, but I guess for those 90 minutes I’ll want to beat her!”

Toone was speaking on behalf of McDonald’s to promote their McDelivery campaign, encouraging people to get their McDonald’s fix in the comfort of their own home and sharing their favourite orders.

United will be looking to secure back-to-back wins on Friday having opened the season with a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa thanks to Rachel Williams’ late winner.

Marc Skinner’s side are hoping to go one step further this season having come incredibly close to securing a maiden WSL title last year, finishing two points behind champions Chelsea.

The side have made some exciting signings over the summer with World Cup golden boot winner Hinata Miyazawa and Brazil forward Geyse joining, and Toone is determined that the club can keep building.

“We’re at a club with high ambitions, as players we have those ambitions as well,” she said.

“You don’t want to be at a club where you’re not winning trophies, so for us it’s about kicking on and really progressing as much as we can.

“Coming off the back of last season we finished the highest we’ve ever finished in the league and we managed to reach a FA Cup final, which is the best cup run we’ve had.

“So it’s about building on that now, we’ve signed some really good, talented players and integrated them into the squad nicely, for us it’s about taking each game as it comes and progressing in the league.”

Ella Toone is encouraging football fans up and down the country to get in on a game day McDelivery. Download the McDonald’s App and order today!

A busy summer transfer window saw one of the biggest names in the Women’s Super League switch sides, while a Japanese World Cup standout is set to play English top-flight football for the first time.

Here, the PA news agency picks five players to look out for in the WSL as the new campaign gets under way.

Alessia Russo (Arsenal)

Arsenal tried and failed – with a rumoured world-record bid – to reach an agreement with Manchester United to sign England forward Russo during the January transfer window, but the Gunners finally landed their coveted target on a free transfer in July.

Russo hit 10 goals in the WSL last season as United finished runners-up to champions Chelsea and was boss Sarina Wiegman’s first-choice centre forward for the World Cup, where she netted three times for the runners-up.

With Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema also set for imminent returns from their respective anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, head coach Jonas Eidevall will boast an intimidating wealth of options in attack.

Hinata Miyazawa (Manchester United)

While Brazil international Geyse, a Champions League winner last season with Barcelona, will likely be seen as the most direct replacement for Russo, boss Marc Skinner will also be buoyed by the arrival of Japan international Miyazawa from WE League side MyNavi Sendai.

Versatile Miyazawa’s five goals in four games at the World Cup were good enough to secure her the tournament’s Golden Boot, and her breakthrough performance also landed the 23-year-old nominations for both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Women’s Player of 2023.

With United playing more matches this season after securing a Champions League berth for the first time, Miyazawa adds pivotal depth to Skinner’s squad.

Mary Fowler (Manchester City)

While Fowler is not a new face at Manchester City, where she signed a four-year deal last June, the forward may find herself under a much brighter spotlight this season after helping Australia reach a first-ever semi-final in a Women’s World Cup.

Fowler was instrumental in ensuring the Matildas secured safe passage out of the group stage even without prolific striker and skipper Sam Kerr, who returned for the knockouts following a calf injury.

The 20-year-old netted in Australia’s 4-0 group stage victory over Canada, teed up Caitlin Foord with a brilliant through ball in her side’s last-16 victory over Denmark and scored a perfect penalty against France in a nervy quarter-final shootout – the longest in Women’s World Cup history – to solidify her status as one to watch.

Catarina Macario (Chelsea)

Macario became one of the many victims of the ACL injury crisis plaguing women’s football whilst playing for Lyon in June 2022 and has yet to return to action – but that did not stop WSL title-holders Chelsea from signing the 23-year-old to a three-year deal in July.

Though still in the early stages of her career, the American forward, who joins the Blues after two seasons with Lyon, has already accomplished something her decorated new boss Emma Hayes has not: winning a Champions League trophy.

Macario, who can play as a central striker or an attacking midfielder, scored 23 goals in 33 games for Lyon in 2021/22 and could prove a key component of Hayes’ European plans once deemed fit to return.

Daphne van Domselaar (Aston Villa)

Aston Villa boss Carla Ward was in search of a new goalkeeper after former first choice Hannah Hampton, whose contract had expired, also joined Hayes’ ranks over the summer.

Villa, who finished fifth last season, have signalled their intent to take on the league’s top sides with a busy transfer window and were delighted after beating big European challengers to secure the services of Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar from FC Twente for the next three years.

The three-time Eredivisie Vrouwen winner, who joins Villa from FC Twente, was also the Netherlands’ first-choice shot-stopper at the World Cup.

England boss Sarina Wiegman has said she is “very worried” about the playing calendar after naming her squad for this month’s Women’s Nations League double-header.

The Lionesses return to action, after their defeat in the World Cup final on August 20, by facing Scotland in Sunderland a week on Friday and the Netherlands in Utrecht four days later to open their campaign in the new competition.

The Arsenal players in her squad – forward Alessia Russo and defender Lotte Wubben-Moy – took part in Champions League qualifying matches last Wednesday and Saturday.

Wiegman, whose players started their pre-World Cup preparation camp on June 19, told a press conference on Wednesday when asked if she was concerned about the calendar and time off: “Yes, I am very worried.

“I was worried before the World Cup, and we knew this was a very short turnaround.

“It’s a bigger thing – we’re all talking about the calendar and we really have to get connected with FIFA, UEFA, the federations, and we have to make that better.

“Of course the game is growing, which is really good. But it has to grow together and players need some rest too.

“Next week they come in and some players only had six days off, which after such a high-level, high-pressure competition is not good for them. And that has been going on for a long time, because we have major tournaments in the summer all the time. So the urgency to solve it and make it better is really, really high.

“The players will come in and we first have to see how they are physically, and we have to get them fresh, and do everything to do that. That’s going to be a challenge.

“Of course you have the team and you want to perform at the highest level, and also you want players to be fresh. For me and my staff it’s balancing (the) two – is this player fit enough, fresh enough, to play the game? That’s balancing, it’s so intense, and players are not robots.”

She added: “I’ve talked to coaches. I think everyone’s aware that we have to speak with each other and we can do a little better, and we all know it’s pretty complex.

“But I think conversations are going on, and we just need to keep doing that and hopefully find better solutions than we had.”

England’s countdown towards the World Cup final against Spain continues with expectations rising at home as well as for Lionesses fans Down Under.

Elsewhere, Sweden and co-hosts Australia are getting set to battle it out for a third-place finish.

Here, the PA news agency looks at all the latest news heading into the final weekend of the showpiece tournament.

Russo at the ready

Alessia Russo cannot wait to kick off England’s World Cup final – after years spent rehearsing the winning strike in her childhood garden.

On Sunday night in Sydney, the Lionesses could become the first England team to bring football ‘home’ since Sir Alf Ramsey and his men lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966.

“Obviously this is the biggest game, the one you dream about and means the most,” said Arsenal forward Russo, who scored England’s third goal to seal a 3-1 semi-final win over Australia on Wednesday.

“I think it will hit when we’re in the tunnel and ready to walk out.

“It’s an incredible occasion, it’s been an unbelievable tournament and this is it. This is the moment we want to be in. We can’t wait.”

Sarina staying put

Sarina Wiegman intends to stay put as England boss amidst rumours the Dutch coach could be tempted into the recently vacated United States manager’s chair.

On Thursday, US Soccer announced Vlatko Andonovski would step down by mutual agreement following a disappointing World Cup campaign that saw the double-defending champions knocked out by Sweden for a worst-ever last-16 finish.

Along with Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, Wiegman finds herself already among the names tipped to fill the vacancy.

The 53-year-old Dutchwoman, though, issued a reassuring update as she prepared to lead the Lionesses into their first World Cup final.

“I’m staying out of that. I’ve heard it (rumours). I’m with England, I’m really happy with England and I have a contract until 2025,” Wiegman said.

“I’m really enjoying my job and I have the impression that people still like me doing that job. I have no plans to leave.”

Kerr targets bronze

Sam Kerr is determined to salvage third place for Australia to reward fans after their dream of lifting the Women’s World Cup on home turf was ended.

A superb strike from Kerr was in vain in Wednesday’s semi-final against England as Australia fell to a 3-1 defeat – leaving the vast majority of the 75,000 fans in Sydney disappointed.

“The support we’ve had has been amazing and we’ll do everything we can at the weekend to get those fans third place,” said Chelsea forward Kerr, who has been battling a calf strain throughout the tournament.

“The amount of people who’ve come out to support us, who’ve been there at our hotel, I’ll say it again: it’s been amazing. We never could have dreamed about this kind of support.

“We have to pick ourselves up and go again. And we’re going to do everything to win third.”

Open up!

Pubs across England are hoping a minister’s letter to councils across England means venues can open early for the World Cup final on Sunday.

Current regulations mean the sale of alcohol is widely prohibited before 10am on Sunday, but venues such as pubs also have specific hours they can stay open and serve alcohol depending on individual licences.

Pub bosses have warned that those licensing rules mean some venues will be unable to serve pints or open early for excited fans on the day.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has written to councils across England to do everything they can to help venues seeking to extend their hours for the game.

“The whole nation is ready to get behind the Lionesses this Sunday in what is England’s biggest game since 1966,” levelling up secretary Mr Gove said.

“I’ve asked councils to do everything they can to help pubs get open earlier on Sunday, so people can come together and enjoy a drink before kick-off for this special occasion.”

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What’s next?

Third-place play-off: Sweden v Australia (Brisbane, Saturday 0900BST)

Final: Spain v England (Sydney, Sunday 1100BST)

The Lionesses will face Spain in their first-ever World Cup final this weekend after knocking tournament co-hosts Australia out of the competition on Wednesday night in Sydney.

Should the European champions succeed in lifting the trophy on Sunday, they will have to navigate their way past a Spanish side rife with talent – including nine players from 2022/23 Champions League winners Barcelona.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five players to watch when the monumental meeting kicks off in front of over 75,000 fans at 11am BST.

Lauren James

The 21-year-old forward missed England’s quarter-final and last-four ties while she served a two-match ban for a red card she was shown after stepping on the back of defender Michelle Alozie in the Lionesses’ last-16 battle with Nigeria.

Before the incident, World Cup debutant James netted three times and is still in a three-way tie for the competition’s joint assist leader with three, despite her absence.

Replacement Ella Toone scored England’s opener in their 3-1 semi-final victory, so it remains to be seen whether England manager Sarina Wiegman will risk modifying a line-up that has more recently clicked in favour of James’ early-tournament potency, or save her as a weapon off the bench.

Jennifer Hermoso

With double Ballon D’Or winner Alexia Putellas seemingly struggling with her fitness, controversial Spain head coach Jorge Vilda has benefitted from strong showings by other members of his side.

Barcelona striker Hermoso – team-mate of England’s Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh and her side’s all-time top goal-scorer – has looked especially fearsome, scoring three times and providing two assists en route to Spain’s first World Cup final.

Team-mate Aitana Bonmati shares identical statistics, giving La Roja a potent power in attack even without Putellas on top form.

Mary Earps

Lionesses’ goalkeeper Earps could be called into action more than any other time in this tournament against Spain, who enter Sunday’s encounter with a competition-leading 17 goals.

The 30-year-old has thrived since becoming Wiegman’s first-choice between the sticks and last year was crowned the Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper after conceding just two goals and keeping four clean sheets across England’s Euro 2022-winning campaign.

The Manchester United shot-stopper has made some vital, potentially result-defining saves so far in this World Cup while conceding just three times –  Spain, meanwhile, have let seven in across their six matches.

Ona Batlle

You do not have to scroll far down lists of World Cup statistics before coming across Spain defender Batlle.

The former Manchester United full-back leads the competition in both passes and crosses into the penalty area and has won the most tackles, 15, of any player in the 32-team tournament.

Battle, 24, is also second to just England’s Alex Greenwood for touches taken with 37 fewer than the Lioness’ 669, and leads the competition with 34 progressive carries.

Alessia Russo

Russo got out to a quieter start to begin this World Cup after winning England’s starting centre-forward role from Women’s Super League Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly.

Her maiden World Cup goal came four minutes into England’s thumping 6-1 win over China in the group stage, an anomalous result in a campaign that had otherwise not seen the Lionesses score more than twice in a match until Russo netted late against Australia to set up the Spain showdown.

The summer Arsenal signing, who also scored the winner against Colombia in England’s 2-1 quarter-final clash, now leads the World Cup in both shots (22) and shots on target (12) and will hope at least a few more find the back of the net in Sydney on Sunday.

Sarina Wiegman admits she was unaware of just how big the rivalry is between England and Australia after Alessia Russo’s winner against Colombia sealed a 2-1 win and set up a World Cup semi-final with the co-hosts.

The Lionesses fell behind after 44 minutes of their last-eight contest in Sydney when Leicy Santos looped the ball over England keeper Mary Earps, but saw her effort cancelled out before the break when Lauren Hemp pounced on an error from Colombian keeper Catalina Perez in stoppage time.

Russo completed the comeback with a fine low finish from Georgia Stanway’s delivery, the 2-1 result enough to book England a third trip to a World Cup final four – an encounter that has already drawn comparisons to the Ashes.

Asked if she was aware of the perennial rivalry between the two countries, England’s Dutch boss replied: “I just think it is going to be really big, but I’ve had a couple of questions about that now so it’s probably going to be bigger than I imagined now.

“So I’ll talk to my players and staff and see what that rivalry is then. I think the Australians and English can get along really well, and we’ve had such a warm welcome here, we’ve really enjoyed our time here in Australia, and I actually really like the people here.

“But that doesn’t mean there’s no rivalry, so we’ll see that Wednesday.”

In April, Australia became the only side to have beaten England under Wiegman’s now nearly two-year tenure, when goals from Sam Kerr and Charlotte Grant fired the Matildas to a 2-0 victory at Brentford.

This has so far been a tournament of fine margins for the Lionesses, who outside of their 6-1 victory over China in the group stage have enjoyed dominant spells but never matches, and on Saturday night in Sydney were up against a Colombia side whose supporters turned the 75,000-plus seat Stadium Australia into an away contest for England.

Bethany England, who came on as a substitute for the third time this tournament, believes the raucous Colombia crowd is the perfect dress rehearsal for Wednesday’s semi-final against the co-hosts, who beat France 7-6 on penalties to advance to the final four for the first time.

Though that match took place in Brisbane, thousands of Matildas fans packed the parks outside Stadium Australia before England’s match, some even climbing trees to get a better view of their own quarter-final and the deciding shoot-out.

England said: “I think the atmosphere is going to be amazing. I thought the crowd tonight was incredible. Every time we touched the ball they were booing but I think you just relish it because these are the atmosphere you want from stadiums. 75,000 and the Australian fans are going to bring a nice big bit of noise through. It’s going to be interesting and entertaining for everyone.

“We’ve been in this situation where we’ve had a lot of noise. The Euros last year at Old Trafford, Wembley. It’s nothing these girls aren’t used to now. We are getting in more and more in the women’s game. Selling out, getting big crowds and not being able to think. So it’s just going to be an exciting game and a special one.”

Alessia Russo praised England for “keeping the dream alive” as they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Lauren Hemp cancelled out Leicy Santos’ strike for Colombia before Russo scored the winner in a 2-1 win.

The Lionesses now face co-hosts Australia on Wednesday in the last four and Arsenal forward Russo was full of praise for her side’s performance.

She told ITV: “I’m buzzing, the semi-final of a World Cup, we’re keeping the dream alive.

“I’m buzzing, obviously Colombia are a top team and I think they’ve shown more than that this World Cup. It was a really tough test, but so happy to get three points and be in the semis.

“We’ve had to dig deep from the first game and that’s what it’s like, they have so many talented players who can cause you trouble within a second.

“But I thought our back line were brilliant tonight, we kept it locked down, won and now we’re in the semis.”

Hemp echoed her sentiments, saying the team were “really special” against Colombia.

“What an amazing feeling. I’m absolutely knackered right now, most of the team are,” Hemp told ITV.

“We put in a great performance. I think you saw the resilience in the squad and I’m so proud of this team.

“I thought we controlled most of the game to be honest, they had a few counter-attacks and we knew what they were going to bring and I felt we dealt with it quite well.

“Whenever we got the ball it looked like we were going to create something, I think the team were really special toady and long may that continue.”

However, Russo insists there is still plenty to work on ahead of the semi-final.

She said: “What makes this team great is we’re always trying to find ways to improve even after we’ve reached the semis. We’ve got lots to work on. We’ve got to get recovered, rested and go again.”

The Arsenal forward is relishing the chance to face Australia.

“It’s exciting, what more do you want?” Russo said.

“You want to play against the best teams and obviously they’re the hosts. I think Colombia had a great fanbase out tonight, so we’ve had a little taste, but I’m so excited.”

Hemp added: “I’m buzzing, it’s where you want to be. I want to play on the world’s biggest stages and obviously we’re here right now in the semi-final, I’m over the moon and can’t wait.

“The atmosphere here was incredible, it’s going to be incredible again, but sometimes that’s when you thrive and we thrived again tonight, so hopefully we’ll do the same again.”

Alessia Russo was thrilled to open her World Cup account as England’s attack came alive in their 6-1 victory over China to conclude the group stage.

The 24-year-old, who joined Arsenal on a free transfer from Manchester United last month, has been boss Sarina Wiegman’s first-choice centre-forward so far this tournament to fill the void left by retired striker Ellen White.

Russo netted the fourth-minute opener in Adelaide, one of five goal-scorers for an inspired England side, who sealed top spot in Group D and will now test their perfect record in the last 16 against Nigeria in Brisbane.

“(I’m) Buzzing. I’m a striker, I like to score as much as I can,” said Russo. “(It was) a positive night, six goals as well, lots of chances created and lots of goals scored.

“You’ve just got to go back to basics, work hard and that’s what I’ve been doing in training, hoping for a moment and when you get it you’ve got to take it with both hands.

“Really pleased to get on the scoresheet but more importantly we topped the group and now we’re ready for knockout football.”

Nigeria, 40th in FIFA’s global rankings, entered the competition as the top-ranked team from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and managed to outplay world number seven and Olympic champions Canada alongside number 22 Republic of Ireland to finish second in Group B and book a place in the last 16.

Russo vowed that while the Lionesses were fully focused on China until they wrapped up Group D, they will “get rested, recovered and fully get locked into Nigeria”, who will be raring to stage another upset.

“They’re a good side too, they’re a side that I’ve never faced – I have at youth level but not at senior level – so I’m excited for it, another good test,” she said.

Russo, who had not scored in seven games, has so far been preferred to Aston Villa striker Rachel Daly, the 2023 Women’s Super League Golden Boot winner.

Versatile Daly came on for Russo after 76 minutes of the Haiti match, started at left-back against Denmark and, in Wiegman’s 3-5-2 formation shake-up, took on the unfamiliar role of left wing-back and scored the last of England’s six against China.

The dominant result, combined with her opening strike, perhaps alleviates some of the pressure on Russo, who knows Daly is waiting in the wings, after Wiegman made it clear that she is prepared to make changes in this World Cup.

Pressure from the public, however, is another story.

Russo added: “I think the media worry about that more than we do as players. We just want to win every game whether it’s 1-0 or 10-0. I think it’s amazing to score that many goals, but we just want to win and progress through this tournament as players.”

Georgia Stanway’s retaken first-half penalty was enough to earn England a nervy 1-0 victory over World Cup debutants Haiti in their Group D opener at Brisbane Stadium.

This was not the decisive victory most had predicted for the European champions and world’s number-four side against a team 49 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

Haiti came close to levelling more than once, including a late second-half chance denied at the last by Mary Earps’ outstretched foot.

While the Lionesses ultimately walked away with all three points, it was an underwhelming performance that will leave boss Sarina Wiegman with plenty of questions ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Denmark.

England fans were out in full force ahead of kick-off in the Queensland capital, where ‘Football’s Coming Home’ could be heard from a riverside rally and ex-Arsenal forward Ian Wright posed in a Lotte Wubben-Moy shirt beneath Story Bridge.

For so much of the build-up of this tournament, the conversation around the Lionesses centred on their ongoing dispute with the Football Association over bonus payments and other commercial issues.

On a clear Thursday night, England wanted their football to do the talking, yet it was Haiti who enjoyed the first spell of attack, winning an early corner before Chloe Kelly, the hero in last summer’s Euro 2022 final, tested Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus with a curled effort.

One of the biggest dilemmas for Wiegman ahead of this tournament was who she would entrust as her number nine and – for this opener at least – it was Alessia Russo who led the England attack and rolled an early effort at Theus.

England fans, who by the noise inside the stadium comprised the majority of those in attendance, felt their hearts leap to their throats when Roselord Borgella broke free and was one-on-one with Earps but rolled her effort past the far post.

The Lionesses thought they had won a least a penalty when Dayana Pierre-Louis clattered into Kelly on the byline and appeared to clip her knee with a stud, but the Haitian midfielder got away with just a yellow card after it was determined – following a lengthy VAR check – that Russo had committed a foul in the build-up.

Soon after that decision, however, Batcheba Louis was punished for a handball and Stanway stepped up to the spot.

Theus sparked a jubilant Haitian celebration when she saved Stanway’s first effort, but VAR again intervened and Venezuelan referee Emikar Calderas ruled the keeper had encroached and the penalty was retaken.

Stanway did not make the same mistake twice as she fired low into the left corner for what felt like an uneasy lead at the end of a stop-start first half.

Melchie Dumornay, the 19-year-old midfielder bound for Lyon after this tournament, forced Earps into a leaping save shortly after the restart before Russo was twice denied in quick succession.

Chelsea’s Lauren James made her World Cup debut after replacing Hemp, just ahead of another nervy moment for England when Dumornay found Haiti skipper Nerilia Mondesir in plenty of space before Jess Carter recovered the ball.

James tried to get something started by delivering a cross to Russo, who came close but saw her attempt tipped over the crossbar, before Bright skied an effort and Theus picked crosses from Alex Greenwood and James out of the air.

On came Rachel Daly for Russo in the 76th minute as Haiti pushed for an equaliser, which nearly came via Roseline Eloissaint but for the outstretched foot of Earps to deny the substitute from 18 yards out.

Carter’s well-timed challenge broke up another Haiti run into the Lionesses’ final third, with Earps able to punch away the resulting corner.

The chances came for the Lionesses to double their advantage but never the finishing touch as England finished with the result, but probably not the performance, they wanted.

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