Foord key to Australia unlocking England in World Cup semi

Lynch: No sweeter win for Australia than beating England (1:50)

Joey Lynch looks ahead to a rivalry clash in the World Cup semifinals with hosts Australia set to face England. (1:50)

To win a World Cup, teams inevitably must respond to challenges and solve problems; how they do, and don't, can prove illuminating.

Playing in a hostile environment against an opponent lifted by a vocally partisan crowd, England trailed for the first time in the Women's World Cup when Leicy Santos scored for Colombia with a freakish 44th-minute chip on Saturday; it was just the second time England had shipped a goal, and their first from open play, but found their way back.

First, a calamitous series of defensive errors allowed Lauren Hemp to pounce and score an equaliser just before half-time, snapping Las Cafeteras' momentum. Then another error, this time from Daniela Arias, allowed Alessia Russo to get in behind and fire home the winner just past the hour mark.

Colombia finished with fury in their attempts to get back into the contest, but they created actually very little that would have caused England coach Sarina Wiegman pause. Their (aesthetically) best chance, Lorena Bedoya Durango's 71st-minute effort forcing an acrobatic leap from Mary Earps, was sent in from another postcode while being closed down; the type of shot a defence is normally quite happy to concede.

Thus, job done, semifinal bound and, in many ways, a dress rehearsal for a game against Australia complete.

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Like the Colombians, the Matildas will be lifted by a heaving mass of support when the two sides meet on Wednesday night, using all the benefits of hosting a World Cup to lift them over the top. Australian national team crowds don't carry the venom as their European or South American counterparts -- often waiting until their side is actually attacking to make noise -- but when there's 80,000 of them watching a game against the old enemy, they'll lift. Additionally, Australia's coach, Tony Gustavsson, has created an environment in which his side plays with a level of togetherness and belief capable of lifting them to otherwise unlikely achievements.

But, concerningly for England, Australia are also opponents who, arguably, are the best in the world in transition. They don't need the ball to score; in fact, they're probably better without it.

Across the length of the tournament, the Matildas have averaged 52% possession, the lowest of any side remaining; restricting the figures to their three most recent games, against Canada, Denmark, and France -- their best games -- that number falls to 44%. In their 2-0 win over England in April they had just 29% of the ball and won via balls launched towards two darting runs in behind by Sam Kerr, who nabbed a goal and an assist.

Further, it's important to note how the Matildas have gone about scoring their critical goals this tournament -- the goals that shifted the overarching circumstances to something playing to their strengths and minimising their weaknesses. With elimination on the line against Canada, Hayley Raso's ninth-minute opener came from a counter-on-a-counter from a Canadian corner: Left-back Steph Catley was still up the pitch to receive a pass from Caitlin Foord before sending in the cross that fell for Raso against an unsettled defence. Australia subsequently won 4-0 with 39% of the ball.

Against Nigeria, Emily van Egmond's opener didn't come from their significant control of possession, but, instead, a mishit goal kick from Chiamaka Nnadozie: Katrina Gorry seized upon the opportunity and knocked the ball to Foord, who burst forward against a scrambling defence and cut back for Van Egmond's late arrival into the box. In the win over the Danes, Rikke Marie Madsen 's misplaced cross was knocked down by Foord for Fowler, who produced a piece of individual brilliance to hold the ball before launching a return pass into the winger's path to strike after an early period of Danish control.

Meanwhile, Australia's improved defence, Mackenzie Arnold, and Gorry's tireless screening work (the diminutive midfielder, beyond playing an oversized role in build-up play, has covered more ground than any other player this tournament, and leads Australia in tackles, dribbler's challenges, blocked passes, and interceptions), have combined to ensure their opponents have not been able to respond and answer back after the Matildas struck first and settled in.

In the game against Nigeria, however, the Super Falcons were tactically astute in sitting back in their defensive block, keying in on set pieces, and getting in behind the Australian defence at speed. After Van Egmond's opener, Uchenna Kanu's equaliser from a freakish deflection just before half-time reset the game and, once again, forced Australia to be ball-dominant. The Matildas lost 3-2 with 65% of possession.

The pattern is evident. And while it's a risky strategy given the Matildas are yet to demonstrate a consistently functional plan when going "zoom" doesn't work, there's nothing inherently wrong with it in an outcome-based World Cup. Gustavsson's side has found a way of scoring goals, and they're very good at it. If Kerr was fully fit, it would be even more effective and other avenues to the goal would also be more viable.

And just as pertinently, this transitive style of play could be just what's needed to beat England.

In a World Cup, when victory by whatever means trumps all, maybe it doesn't matter that England have yet to be consistently incisive in attack. But it does bear noting that, aside from a 6-1 hammering of China, they have been rarely able to get things going in the final third this month. Meanwhile, the one player who has shown the ability to razzle-dazzle, Lauren James, is suspended for the semifinal.

The Lionesses rank No. 3 this tournament for average possession, and second behind only Spain for passes total and entries into the final third. However, they have struggled doing work at the pointy end. Whereas Spain have made 106 passes into their opponents' penalty area, England have done so just 44 times. For all their control of the ball, compared with Australia, only one more of their shots has come from a pass -- despite completing 1,136 more passes overall.

England's Bright ready for Australia semifinal: 'Bring it on!'

Millie Bright speaks after England fight back from a goal down vs. Colombia to reach the World Cup semifinals.

Fortunately for Weigman, England have possibly the tournament's best defence, switching to a back-three in their past three games; Millie Bright returned after nearly missing the win over Haiti, and been unshakable, while Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter have been strong alongside her. Not only is this three-player front defensively stout, it also makes England more press resistant -- albeit seemingly at a cost further up the pitch.

Lucy Bronze, meanwhile, is one of the world's best on the right flank. Rachel Daly occupies the other while she's comfortable as a wing-back to a three and clearly a potent weapon going forward -- playing as a forward at Aston Villa and all -- she's a potential weakness for Raso to exploit.

However, it's that very flank of Bronze and Carter where the game could be determined; in a contest wherein Australia will be looking to exploit spaces in behind, it will be the responsibility of this pair to contain Foord.

The offensive load that the Arsenal star carries cannot be understated. She leads Australia in progressive carries and progressive receptions of the ball and does so by plenty: Only Gorry and Ellie Carpenter (11) have made more than half her 19 progressive carries, while only Raso's 23 progressive receptions represent a figure greater than half her 40. Not only does she lead the team in take-ons, but she has also done so in dangerous areas; she has carried the ball into the opposition penalty area on 14 occasions -- something no teammate has done more than three times. She makes this attack go.

Wednesday's game, thus, might just be decided by its speed, as well as the battle between Bronze and Foord. If England can dictate tempo as they control possession, while ensuring their positioning and ability to set up in their stout defensive shape when they lose the ball, the advantage will be theirs. If Foord is blanketed, Australia, on form, will struggle to create. Extended periods of this will take the crowd out of the game, and increasingly lead to Australia resorting to long balls over the top -- which Bright and Co. can feast on.

Yet given England will gladly have more of the ball, the Matildas can afford to sit back and pick their moments to spring forward; and given England haven't set the world on fire with creative attacking play, Australia can likely do so with a sense of confidence. Score one goal and circumstances, like in the Canada game, will favour them further as the Lionesses commit further forward.

Perhaps it can be argued that England probably have a better collective and are better coached, but the circumstances of the contest and the two team's strengths on a matchup basis favour the Matildas. It makes the game fiendishly difficult to predict. As all England and Australia games should be.