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FIFA Women’s World Cup: Australia stun France in penalties to claim maiden semis spot

Courtney Vine scored the decisive penalty as hosts Australia made history in the FIFA Women’s World Cup on Saturday by storming into their maiden semifinals, prevailing over France via penalties in a quarterfinal clash here.

After holding the European giants goalless in regulation time, the Matildas came out victorious 7-6 in the penalty shoot-out.

Vine converted the decisive penalty in a heart-stopping shootout and clinched a tense and hard-earned victory, thus making the Matildas the first Aussie team, male or female to reach the semifinals of a FIFA World Cup.

Though they were second-best for the bulk of the match, France began brightly and should have moved in front inside 13 minutes, but Maelle Lakrar failed from inside the six-yard box, scooping the ball over from the closest of ranges.

Les Bleues had a miraculous escape late in the first half when Australia’s Mary Fowler fired towards an apparently open goal with goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin stranded and out of position. Elisa de Almeida came to France’s rescue, though, with a magnificent goal-line clearance, diverting the ball behind for a corner.

Fowler was excellent throughout but had a luckless night in front of the goal, with Peyraud-Magnin producing a couple of smart stops to keep the youngster out. 

Australia turned to the seasoned Sam Kerr in search of a goal ten minutes into the second half and the Matildas skipper nearly made an immediate impact, setting up Hayley Raso for a curling left-foot shot that the France keeper kept out.

The hosts had their hearts in their mouths in extra time when Alanna Kennedy headed a corner into her own net. But the French celebrations were quickly curtailed as referee Maria Carvajal whistled immediately, having spotted a Wendie Renard shirt-tug while the ball was in the air.

After a wonder save from Australia Mackenzie Arnold to deny Vicki Becho, the match went into penalties.

Herve Renard had introduced Solene Durand seconds beforehand and the substitute keeper, making her first competitive start, did step up with impressive saves from Steph Catley and Clare Hunt. 

But Arnold also produced some heroics of her own, and when Vicki Becho hit the post, Vine was able to step up and side-foot the Matildas into the last four and spark wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.

In the semifinals, Australia will take on the winner of the match between England and Colombia.

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