No sooner had Sam Kerr made her mark for the Matildas after a long wait at her home tournament, the Lionesses bit back with precision to book their first-ever World Cup final.
The much-hyped semi in Sydney racked everyone’s nerves and got pulses racing - and with so much LGBTQ representation in the two line-ups, out players were naturally among the key protagonists in a sporting contest to savor.
Lauren Hemp - who has previously shared images and TikTok videos reflecting her relationship with fellow footballer Ellie Butler - won FIFA’s Player of the Match award.
England will now meet another first-time finalist, Spain, at the same Sydney venue on Sunday. For the dejected hosts, it’s back to Brisbane for the bronze-medal match against Sweden.
They thought it was their time. At Stadium Australia on Wednesday night, home fans created a cauldron of noise and national pride. The whole country felt united.
On the other side of the world, England fans watching coverage on the BBC were treated to a special ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ montage delivered by Kylie Minogue herself.
With over 75,000 exuberant fans packed in, hearts were beating with plenty of padam padam. This was a night for icons to perform and it was Kerr who was expected to seize the spotlight - but she would be upstaged.
The reviews would end up hailing Hemp. The lass from Norfolk was undeniably the headline act in this encounter.
Latching on to Millie Bright’s long pass in the 71st minute, she caused Ellie Carpenter to lose her composure before sneaking in a shot that restored the Lionesses’ lead.
A quarter of an hour later, it was Hemp’s cute pass that found her great friend Alessia Russo in space on the right and the latter slid home what proved to be the winning goal.
Before those decisive second-half contributions swung it for England, Kerr had got the magnificent Matildas fans roaring with joy and believing that lifting the trophy on Aussie soil was their destiny.
She got the better of Millie Bright to unleash a 25-yard stunner just after the hour mark that brought the scores level, following on from Ella Toone’s first-half blast.
The Matildas had the momentum at this stage and Jess Carter had to make a perfectly-timed tackle in the penalty area to deny her Chelsea club team-mate Kerr as she prepared to pounce.
Australia’s captain and talisman certainly looked back to her physical peak after the calf injury which meant this was her first start of the tournament.
But just as she began to really “live her dream” - as girlfriend Kristie Mewis had put it in her pre-match Insta message - it would all be over for the Matildas.
As those who had taken these players to their hearts trooped out of the stadium (their mood would soon worsen due to city transport chaos), the crestfallen squad and staff gathered on the pitch at the final whistle.
An image taken from above seemed to say so much.
It wasn't all love and goodwill towards the losing team.
Post-game, there was a slightly salty tweet congratulating England from Ireland’s Ruesha Littlejohn who had appeared to snub Australia’s Caitlin Foord - a reported love rival - in the pre-game handshakes on the tournament’s opening night, four weeks ago.
I’ve always been a big England fan— Ruesha (@RueshaLJ) August 16, 2023
Having edged past Spain in the quarter-finals on their way to winning last summer’s Euros, England will now be expected to conquer La Roja again and claim more silverware.
But for now, it’s the hosts that deserve a show of appreciation. Those out on the field have been unapologetically authentic. Former players have been honoured as part of the tournament narrative. Fans and media alike have revelled in the unifying moments.
This squad represents many things to many people. For some, it’s the tag of ‘gayest team ever at a World Cup’ - one that’s proudly bestowed and worn - that matters a great deal.
So crack open a tinny and raise it to Sam and the Matildas. Good on ya, Australia - you’ve made us all proud.