BRISBANE-- Co-hosts Australia beat France 7-6 in a dramatic penalty shootout to reach the last four of the Women's World Cup for the first time after their quarter-final finished deadlocked at 0-0 following extra time on Saturday.
Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold saved three French penalties and missed one herself in the shootout but it was teenager Vicki Becho hitting the post with the 12th spot-kick that opened the door for the hosts. Cortnee Vine showed nerves of steel when she stepped up to fire the ball past Solene Durand into the bottom right corner of the net and send the Matildas into a semi-final against England or Colombia on Wednesday. The substitute winger raced back towards the centre circle to celebrate with her team mates as the stadium and fan zones around the country exploded in delight.
Arnold hit the post with what would have been the winning spot-kick before the shootout went to sudden death, but she kept her focus to twice save penalties from Kenza Dali, seeing the first scratched off because she moved off the line. "It's unreal," said Arnold. "At the end of the day, it's my job to keep the ball out of the net. And thankfully I could do that for them. But we all do it for each other out there, and they have my back 100%." Spain will play Sweden on Tuesday in Auckland for the other spot in the final. "Goliath Of A Goalie" France, who were looking to reach the semi-finals for the second time after 2011, had the better of the first half and extra time and will rue a few chances left out on the pitch as they head home.
"I would like to congratulate my players for the performance they pulled off today against the entire nation," said France coach Herve Renard. "We came up against a goliath of a goalie. What a game, in normal time, in extra time and then during the penalty shootout." France had the best of the early chances with Maelle Lakrar fluffing a golden opportunity to give Les Bleues the lead from a corner in the 12th minute. Australia's only early chances came against the run of play from set pieces but forward Mary Fowler had as many as six as the game opened up around halftime, the best stopped by a sensational block from defender Elisa de Almeida.
Matildas striker Sam Kerr, still struggling with a calf injury, came on in the 55th minute and her first charge forward gave Hayley Raso space for a shot that France's starting goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin did well to push over. France weathered the storm triggered by the introduction of the Australia skipper, however, and their 19-year-old substitute Becho was soon threatening down the other end. The last quarter of an hour of normal time was a tense but ragged affair with half chances at both ends, a theme reprised in the first half of extra time.
Australia's Alanna Kennedy headed the ball into her own net in the 100th minute under the attentions of Wendy Renard only for the France captain to be penalised for a foul on Caitlin Foord. France had the better of the second period with Becho lashing a shot from the edge of the box in the 107th minute that goalkeeper Arnold saved well in a precursor to her heroics in the shootout.