In the heart-stopping clash of the Women’s World Cup Quarterfinals, Australia landed a match-winning 7-6 penalty shootout against France while the scoreboard remained blank throughout the regulation and extra time on Saturday. French coach Herve Renard was all praises for Australia's game-changer goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold. He described her as a “Goliath of a goalie” during a post-match interview.
She not only held her composure through the regular and overtime but also thwarted three goals in the thrilling penalty shoot-out that led Australia to the semifinals for the maiden time. The proud Matildas are now the only host team, besides the U.S., to bag a quarterfinal victory in nine Women’s World Cups.
Their crowning glory was also due to some stellar performances from other team members. Cortnee Vine, who marked her World Cup debut in the last-minute as a substitute, was the tenth of the line-up of 11 penalty takers for the hosts. She kept her nerves steady and concluded the game that two of her peers couldn’t, ensuring a victory that etched their names in the annals of World Cup history.
The Matildas will now face England, the reigning European champions, for a berth in the finals following their victory over Colombia.
Australia's goalkeeper, Arnold, was in excellent form, making record saves in the intense game as she ensured the Matildas' advancement. When asked about her performance, an overwhelmed Arnold said, “I could have won the game for the girls and I missed it, but the way they rallied around me and just kept me in it. 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.”
The epic soccer battle had the entire nation hooked. Enthusiasts from other sports and afar tuned in to live broadcasts and even the evening news was postponed to allow fans to follow the game on free-to-air TV.
Despite being pitted against approximately 26 million rivals in the forms of fans and supporters, the French team displayed commendable tenacity, according to Renard, who took the opportunity to congratulate the Australians on their incredible performance that day.
High expectations hung heavy on the Australians, as six of the previous World Cup hosts had been eliminated at the quarters. The victory relieved Australia of the burden of having lost all three of their past quarterfinal matches at the Women's World Cups.
The French were hoping for a repeat of their only quarterfinal win from 2011, where they triumphed over England in penalties. However, they came up short despite a promising start and a near-win when an own goal by Australia was disallowed, following France Captain Wendie Renard's jersey-pull of Australian forward Caitlin Foord.
A nail-biting shootout saw both teams delivering their best, before Cortnee Vine's successful strike ensured Australia's triumph. Following the Australian victory, coach Tony Gustavsson expressed the sentiment behind their success, stating, “You play with your heart and give it your best, and with the crest on your chest. The players tonight, they represent so much more than 90-minute football.”