220727 Russo
England's Alessia Russo celebrates scoring their third goal with a stunning backheel. Image Credit: Reuters

LONDON: Alessia Russo shot to fame as one of the faces of England's Euro 2022 victory on home soil and is now closing in on conquering the world with the Lionesses.

Russo scored four times at the Euro, but her stunning backheel finish through the legs of Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl in a 4-0 semi-final rout saw her instantly become a social media sensation.

Sponsors flocked to the 24-year-old, who could reportedly become the first Women's Super League (WSL) player to earn more than 1 million pounds-a-year through bonuses on England duty, her club salary and commercial deals.

England's forward Alessia Russo (C) celebrates
England's forward Alessia Russo (C) celebrates scoring her team's second goal during the 2023 Women's World Cup quarter-final football match against Colombia at Stadium Australia in Sydney on August 12, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Ahead of the World Cup, she fronted an Adidas campaign alongside David Beckham, whose daughter is among her cast of fans.

Arsenal saw a world record 500,000-pound bid for a women's player turned down by Manchester United in January despite Russo having only six months left on her contract. She has since joined the Gunners on a free transfer.

But all has not been plain sailing for Russo in 2023. She was outscored by teammates Rachel Daly and Bethany England in the WSL last season and her place as England's number nine coming into the tournament was in question.

Those doubts lingered during an inauspicious start to the World Cup by Sarina Wiegman's side.

Russo failed to find the net in 1-0 wins over Haiti and Denmark and was outshone by Lauren James' hat-trick even when she did get off the mark in a 6-1 thrashing of China.

Another blank followed as England dodged a bullet in the last 16 to squeeze past Nigeria on penalties as James was sent off.

Hemp partnership 

But, without the Chelsea playmaker, and the injured Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, Wiegman has fallen upon an unexpected strike partnership of Russo and Lauren Hemp that has clicked at just the right time for the Lionesses.

Against Colombia in the quarter-finals, Hemp's opportunism pounced on a mistake by Las Cafeteras goalkeeper Catalina Perez to level soon after England fell behind for the first time in the tournament.

Russo then showed the predatory instincts that have made her one of the world's most feared strikers by skillfully turning her marker and firing low into the far corner for the winner.

It was the same story in the last four as hosts Australia were put to the sword despite a moment of magic from local hero Sam Kerr.

The Chelsea striker smashed into the top corner to cancel out Ella Toone's sweet strike that had given England a half-time lead at Stadium Australia.

But just when the European champions could have wobbled under the wave of Aussie energy, Hemp's refusal to give up a lost cause bore fruit to capitalise on confusion between Matildas' defender Ellie Carpenter and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.

Any doubt over the outcome and Russo's confidence was then dismissed with a cool and classy finish across Arnold for her 14th international goal.

"She just really has a feeling for scoring goals," said Wiegman. "She has a good header. She has a good shot. She just is a real number nine."

Spain stand between England's women and immortality in Sydney on Sunday.

But questions over where the Lionesses' goals will come from appear to have been answered as Russo has refound the golden touch that made her a national hero 12 months ago.