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Australia Beats France on Penalties to Reach World Cup Semifinals


By the point it was over, the overriding feeling on the Brisbane Stadium was not a lot euphoria or ecstasy or relief but dizziness. Not from the heights that Australia has reached in its home World Cup, beating France to succeed in a primary semifinal, but from the winding, coiling, nauseating road it took to get there.

The sport itself was fraught enough, the goal-less stalemate of the rating line belying greater than two hours through which the balance of power hopped forwards and backwards: France began well, composed and inventive, just for Australia to wrestle control. It was not a night defined by patterns of play a lot as storm surges, and the power to face up to them.

The penalty shootout that decided it, though, was something else entirely. France missed its first kick, with Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold denying Selma Bacha. Solène Durand, the substitute goalkeeper brought on by France as a penalty specialist — or, who knows, perhaps just a chunk of psychological warfare — saved a shot from Steph Catley.

Ève Périsset, introduced specifically to take a penalty, missed France’s fifth; Arnold, the goalkeeper, stepped as much as win it. She stepped up confidently. Durand didn’t move. The gang began to rejoice. Her teammates accelerated toward her. Her attempt struck the proper post. Australia would should wait.

Each team had taken eight penalties by the point Arnold saved one other, this time from Kenza Dali. The goalkeeper had, though, improved too soon. It needed to be taken again. Dali selected the identical side of the goal, a double bluff. Arnold called it. She saved it again. Clare Hunt stepped as much as win it for Australia. By that stage, it was hardly even a surprise that she couldn’t convert.

As an alternative, it might be Cortnee Vine who decided it. Vicki Bècho was the last French outfield player set to take a penalty; after her, Durand would have needed to take her turn. But Bècho struck the post, and with a nation watching, Vine kept her composure, and Australia had survived, 7-6, within the shootout. The thunderclap that followed was tinged with just a touch of desperation, the energy ever-so-slightly frantic.

Australia has, over these last three weeks, embraced this team in a way that has been concurrently predictable — that is an infinite sporting nation, one that pulls a substantial proportion of its identity from its prowess in the assorted sports it takes to heart — and wholly surprising to those that have witnessed soccer’s struggles for acceptance.

It isn’t just that the stadiums have been full: The World Cup is an event, a showpiece, a superb day trip, and almost every country on the planet is united in having fun with the feeling of being a part of a significant event. It’s that the streets are filled with green-and-gold, that the newspapers have images of the Matildas front and center, that it’s the primary topic of dialogue.

The actual fact Australia’s progress has continued will only exacerbate that, after all, now that the country is just two games from a world championship. It’s the character of it, though, that is probably the most effective commercial for soccer’s curious charms.

For 3 hours, no one within the Brisbane Stadium could tear their eyes away, no one could take anything as a right. As they walked away, they might have felt not only delighted and proud but nauseous and drained, too, their nerves frayed and torn by what they’d been through. And that, in spite of everything, is the purpose of sport. It’s what is going to draw them back in 4 days, when a semifinal, and the prospect to live all of it again, hovers on the horizon.

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