Colombia was appearing in this stage of the tournament for the first time, a run sparked by a shock victory over Germany in the group stage, and the Colombians had another favorite rattled when they took an early 1-0 lead after a stunning goal from Leicy Santos.
But, ultimately, the Lionesses came back and hung on to seal their place in the semifinal against Australia.
European champion England has struggled to find their stride in the knockout stages, requiring a penalty shootout to defeat Nigeria in the round-of-16 before this less than convincing victory against Colombia.
But, no matter, they have reached the semifinals, avoiding the upset to which so many of the other favorites have succumbed, drawing on all the experience they have accumulated under coach Sarina Wiegman who has lost just one match in her two years in charge.
“We did (have to dig deep) absolutely. And I think we’ve had to dig deep from the first game,” goalscorer Russo told broadcaster ITV.
“And that’s what it’s like, they (Colombia) have so many talented players that can cause you trouble within a second, but I thought our backline was brilliant.”
The Lionesses had the better of the early exchanges but a header from Russo found only the arms of goalkeeper, as did Rachel Daly’s effort fifteen minutes later.
Colombia matched England’s attacking intent early on; teenage superstar Linda Caicedo showcasing her now familiar jinking runs, bamboozling defenders in the box, though her shot sailed high over the crossbar.
The game turned on its head just before halftime when Colombia, as it has done throughout the tournament, sprinkled some magic on the field.
Santos launched an exquisite strike from the right-hand side of the box, and it curled into the net, past the England defense and over the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Santos was promptly mobbed by her teammates in celebration as Las Cafeteras took a 1-0 lead just before half-time, seemingly halfway to a historic upset.
Their lead lasted less than 10 minutes, however, England capitalizing on goalkeeper Catalina Perez’s fumble. Hemp was the fastest to react, prodding the ball into the back of the net to equalize just before halftime.
Hemp, aged 23 years and five days, became the youngest ever player to score for England in a Women’s World Cup knockout match, surpassing her teammate Lucy Bronze who scored in 2015 against Norway at the age of 23 years and 237 days.
Both teams seemed to reset a little after the break before England took the lead for the first time in the match from an unlikely position. A long, speculative ball downfield from Georgia Stanway seemed covered by the Colombian defense but it squirted clear and Russo was on hand to fire the ball into the net.
Despite late Colombian pressure, England held on and will now face old rival and tournament co-host Australia in the World Cup semifinal on Wednesday. That game will be played at Sydney’s Stadium Australia – also the venue for the quarterfinal between England and Colombia – where the Matildas will have the advantage of huge backing from their own fans.
“It’s exciting. What more do you want?” Russo said. “You want to play against the best teams and, obviously, they’re the hosts. I think Colombia had a great fanbase out here tonight, so I think we’ve had a little taste, but I’m so excited.”