The Matildas are through to their first Women’s World Cup semi-final after a heart-stopping 7-6 penalty shootout victory over France, with Cortnee Vine notching the winning penalty.
After a game that ended 0-0, it took until the final takers for the sides to be separated, with Australia converting on their third chance to win.
Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold was the hero, saving multiple penalties, but so nearly the villian, hitting the post herself from the spot.
The shootout had a bit of everything, with several misses per side and a crucial save pulled back by VAR after Arnold went early. She saved the second effort, only for Clare Hunt to fail to capitalise.
The Matildas made history at their home World Cup, beating their previous best finish – falling at the quarter-final stage three times previously.
“I’m so freaking proud about this team,” Tony Gustavsson told Optus Sport.
“The bravery they showed tonight… unbelievable. Yes (it’s the biggest moment in my career). You know, I’ve won medals but I said to the team before this game: ‘It’s not about the medal around your neck, it’s about the heart beating underneath it,’ and the heart that beat tonight in this team, and in this country – unbelievable.
“To come back from that miss… (Arnold) could have been the hero of the country, and to stay in the game, come back and be the game-changer, I’m so happy for her.
“Thank you (to the fans). Thank you for supporting this team. Thanks for believing in them. You are part of this win. I’ve said to the team, we are a tight circle and they kept it really tight, but tonight we bring you into it. You belong to this team tonight, every single person in this country. Thank you so much.”
Despite their underdog status with the bookmakers, Gustavsson’s side had reason to believe after defeating France 1-0 in a warm-up fixture just before the World Cup. A nervy start at the back threatened to unglue the Matildas, however.
Alanna Kennedy was extremely fortunate to escape an early booking when the centre-half failed to deal with a regulation long ball before tugging at Kadidiatou Diani’s jersey from behind. Diani’s powerful shot whizzed past Arnold’s upright for a goal-kick.
Left all alone in the penalty area after a set-piece, Maelle Lakrar should have scored but couldn’t get her body shape right, only managing a tap at the ball which allowed Arnold to gather.
Arnold again kept the scores levelled with a good reaction save to deny Lakrar, with the right-back prominent in Les Bleus’ attacks.
Goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, who had not been very busy, inexplicably came to collect a ball in the area but Emily van Egmond arrived first, squaring for Fowler who quickly fired off a shot on target only for Elisa De Almeida to produce a goal-line clearance to deny Australia the opening goal.
It was the Matildas’ best chance of the opening half and had Fowler realised how much time she was really afforded it could have been 1-0.
Katrina Gorry then picked out Fowler with an exquisite chip over the France backline but this time Peyraud-Magnin parried out of danger to keep the scores locked at half-time.
Gustavsson resisted the temptation to alter his line-up at the break but with Sam Kerr on the bench it was unlikely to be too long before she was unleashed.
After the restart Peyraud-Magnin continued to look shaky, giving the ball away directly to Fowler whose shot was deflected out for a corner.
Van Egmond had barely put a foot wrong but she was sacrificed in the 55th minute with a huge Brisbane roar welcoming Kerr to the field.
The Matildas captain was immediately involved, pouncing on a loose ball and squaring to Hayley Raso who shot from outside the box and was denied by Peyraud-Magnin.
Les Blues were under the pump, only just fending off consecutive goalmouth scrambles with Fowler somehow still yet to find the back of the net after umpteen chances.
Against the run of play Gorry conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position but despite the looming presence of Wendie Renard in the penalty area France could not capitalise.
Thirty more minutes of play would be required as regular time came to a close with the scoreline miraculously still reading 0-0 in Brisbane.
Les Bleus thought they finally had the opener through Kennedy’s misplaced header after 10 minutes of extra time but France captain Renard was judged to have impeded Foord as the cross was delivered.
Gustavsson finally went back to his bench, bringing on Vine to replace Raso on Australia’s right side. The Sydney FC flyer almost made an immediate impact, redirecting Foord’s delivery just wide of the post.
Vicki Becho forced a quality save from Arnold to begin the second period of extra time.
Herve Renard threw a spanner in the works, withdrawing Peyraud-Magnin in favour of Solene Durand for the final few minutes.
It seemed an inspired move, as the Matildas had two penalties saved – Arnold’s came back off the post – but France conspired to miss four of their own, with a visibly nervous Becho cracking under the pressure, sending her effort into the upright.
With the game on the line for a third time, Vine made no mistake – and made Australian football history.