The FIFA Women's World Cup final lies just one game away for Sweden and France after the European duo book last-four ties against Japan and the United States.
The continent boasted four contenders ahead of this weekend's quarter-finals, but at least one of those sides was always destined for disappointment with France kicking things off against England on Saturday. Les Bleues enjoyed the lion's share of the chances in Leverkusen but still needed Élise Bussaglia's 88th-minute equaliser to stave off defeat after Jill Scott had put England ahead just before the hour mark.
That took the game into extra time and, with no further goals forthcoming, it was left to a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner, Claire Rafferty and Faye White missing the target for Hope Powell's charges. France are in their first major semi-final.
I think I aged ten years when they scored against us and ten more when one of our penalties was saved," said victorious coach Bruno Bini. "But, thankfully, winning the match took 22 years off me. There are two good pieces of news for us tonight: we don't have to pack our bags, so we can stay in the same hotel, and we've now got two big matches ahead of us, whatever happens."
"It was a tough match and we had some really tired legs out there today," added Powell, who first took the England reins in 1998. "We thought we had a good chance when it went to penalties, as we'd worked on that particular aspect in training. I'd like to applaud France, who never gave up and kept at us right until the end. I want to give a special mention to my captain, Faye White, who had the courage to step up and take a penalty."
Next up for France are the two-time champions US on Wednesday, Pia Sundhage's side having survived Rachel Buehler's 66th-minute dismissal to prevail 5-3 on penalties at the end of a 2-2 draw. Abby Wambach had earlier kept them in the match with a dramatic leveller two minutes into extra-time stoppage time. Also on Wednesday, 2003 runners-up Sweden will face Japan in the other semi-final in Frankfurt, their progress coming via a 3-1 defeat of Australia thanks to early goals from Therese Sjögran and Lisa Dahlkvist plus Lotta Schelin's 52nd-minute strike.
"We were a little nervous before we went out, but there is a fantastic atmosphere in our team and we pulled each other through," said Schelin. "Reaching the semi-finals is a great achievement, so I'm really, really happy.
It's not a dream just yet but it's becoming one."
Thomas Dennerby's side are also celebrating sealing a place at next summer's Olympic Games along with France, the pair stamping the two tickets available for next year's tournament alongside the UK after world champions Germany were surprisingly ousted by Japan. Karina Maruyama notched the only goal after 108 minutes of tension in Wolfsburg to consign the hosts to their first reverse at this level since the 1999 last eight – a run of 15 Women's World Cup finals games without defeat.
"We could have played for another few hours without winning," said Germany coach Silvia Neid, who oversaw the holders' second straight triumph four years ago. "I'm sad we are out of the tournament as I don't think we were the inferior team. However, we didn't score and if you don't score, and you don't pay attention throughout, then you lose the match. We weren't able to score a single goal out of 15 dead-ball situations, which is normally our strength."
Road to the final
1: England 1-1 France (aet, 3-4 pens)
2: Germany 0-1 Japan (aet)
3: Sweden 3-1 Australia
4: Brazil 2-2 United States (aet, 3-5 pens)
1: France v US, Wednesday 18.00, Monchengladbach
2: Japan v Sweden, Wednesday 20.45, Frankfurt
• Third place match: Saturday 16 July 17.30, Sinsheim
• Final: Sunday 17 July 20.45, Frankfurt
*France and Sweden join UK in 2012 Olympic tournament. Other qualifiers are Brazil and Colombia with two each to qualify from Asia, Africa and CONCACAF and one from Oceania.
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