QUARTER FINAL: ITALY 0-2 THE NETHERLANDS
THE NETHERLANDS progressed to their first World Cup semi final beating Italy in the searing heat of Valenciennes with two straightforward set-pieces. Vivianne Miedema put Oranje Leeuwinnen into the lead on 70 minutes, heading in Sherida Spitse’s free-kick from the left. Stefanie van der Gragt doubled their tally rising to nod home another Spitse dead ball delivery – this time from the right. Italy were unable to significantly trouble Sari van Veenendaal in the Dutch goal but go back home knowing not only have they delivered beyond their own expectations, but surprised a lot of people by reaching the last eight.
Italy were without striker Cristiana Girelli so called in Aurora Galli, scorer of their second RO16 goal against China. Dutch Head Coach Sarina Wiegman stuck with the eleven that began against Japan, hoping for better cohesion and organisation.
With two very organised teams set up to keep it tight and not overexert in the high temperatures, chances were at premium – throughout the match, but particularly in the first half.
Valentina Bergamaschi had two sights of the Dutch goal but couldn’t beat van Veenendaal. Valentina Giacinti drove wide after Barbara Bonansea had won the ball in a promising attacking area.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, huffed and puffed to create opportunities at the other end. Miedema shot straight at Laura Giuliani from 20-yards and Spitse failed to get hold of her free-kick strike from the edge of the box.
Improvement was needed in the second half, from both teams, but it was the ladies in orange that found their groove. Lieke Martens drew a good save from Guiliani low to her left, chesting down a Shanice van de Sanden cross before volleying goalward. Jackie Groenen’s shot was blocked at point blank range by Elena Linari before Desiree van Lunteren caused chaos with a cross right through the Italian’s six-yard box.
Pressure mounted. Van de Sanden and Martens both fired shots straight at the keeper, before Daniëlle van de Donk hit the bar with a delicious chip from the edge of the box after a first touch that exuded class.
On 63 minutes Spitse’s low drive from a 25-yard free-kick spun just past the upright. But her radar was fully tuned in on 70 minutes when she curled in a perfect delivery from the left touchline than Miedema helped on into Giuliani’s top left hand corner.
Van der Gragt put the result beyond doubt seven minutes later rising at the far post to meet Spitse’s flatter delivery, this time from the right.
Martens almost put some gloss on the result, dinking over the bar from just inside the box, but the Netherlands comfortably ran the clock down. The occasion suddenly seemed like it was a game too far for a tired looking and emotional Italian side.
The Netherlands will now face Sweden on Wednesday evening in Lyon. While they haven’t been impeccable every step of the way, Wiegman’s squad has shown flashes of their Euro 2017 championship winning form. They should go into the semi-final confident that they will give the Swedes a thorough examination defensively.
Player of the match: Sherida Spitse, Netherlands (Two assists to back up her tremendous stamina and drive in midfield; the heart of the Dutch team)
QUARTER FINAL: GERMANY 1-2 SWEDEN
Sweden knocked out the FIFA ranked number two side, Germany, at Roazhon Park this evening. And they did it the hard way, coming back from going an early goal down. Lina Magull’s smart finish on 16 minutes was cancelled out just six minutes later by Sofia Jakobsson, running on to a long punt out of defence. Stina Blackstenius was in the right place at the right time to convert the winner after keeper Almuth Schult had denied Fridolina Rolfö.
Linda Dallmann came into the German side for her first appearance at the World Cup. Head Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg then pushed Lina Magull further forward and, curiously, played striker Alexandra Popp in a deep lying ‘quarterback’ role in midfield – perhaps with one eye on managing Kosovare Asllani’s threat.
Die Nationalelf looked comfortable early on knocking the ball around confidently. Chances started arriving. Popp headed straight at Hedvig Lindahl from a corner routine. Then Magull fired in from 20 yards but couldn’t trouble the former Chelsea stopper.
Sweden looked to counter. Caroline Seger threaded in Jakobsson but Schult saved with her feet.
Then, just past the quarter hour, Sara Däbritz intercepted a loose pass out of defence and drove at the Swedish centre backs. She clipped a clever ball into space for Magull who flicked the ball up with her first touch and volleyed low throught the legs of Lindahl for 1-0.
Lea Schüller nearly extended Germany’s advantage two minutes later, heading at Lindahl after Magull broke through Swedish lines and worked an opening with Svenja Huth.
Sweden equalised with breath-taking simplicity. Linda Sembrandt hammered a clearance up-field and Jakobsson gambled on a defensive error. She got one and raced in behind the German backline, sliding the ball past Schult.
Realising that the German’s were playing too high and very square, Peter Gerhardsson’s charges started to tap the direct route to goal. Blackstenius got in next, forcing Schult to tip over.
Germany looked rattled and narrowly survived some pinball around their box just before half time from Magdalena Eriksson’s corner. Voss-Tecklenburg was then forced into a first half substitution with injured full-back Carolin Simon replaced by Leonie Maier. The break couldn’t come quickly enough for the former double world champions. They brought on Dzsenifer Marozsán at half time to bolster their attack, but it was Sweden that got the flying start to the second period.
Eriksson, Aslanni and Jakobsson had forged a path through midfield and down the rigth with Jakobsson getting to the by-line. The lively forward hung up a cross which Rolfö powered goalward; Schult could only parry and Blackstenius made no mistake from 4 yards out.
The Germans looked to regain some control but couldn’t create clear-cut chances. Sweden, happy to concede territory and possession, still possessed a threat on the break. Rolfö played Blacksteius into space and defender Hegering had to be at her best to make the block as the Linköping striker got her shot away.
Jakobsson then ran through the heart of the German defence with Schult doing just enough to prevent a third goal. Blackstenius would get one more chance to put the final nailin Germany’s coffin but she blasted over the bar.
The attacking tirade that both German and Swedish fans would have been expecting from Die Nationalelf only materialised with a few minutes remaining. Substitute Lena Oberdorf headed Marozsán’s free-kick wide after Lindahl had completely missed her punch. Oberdorf then cut back to Däbritz from the left but the midfielder got no power on her shot and Lindahl gathered. Marozsán and Huth worked a cross from the right but Hanna Glas did just enough to put Hegering off and the German’s header flew over the bar.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this result is the simplicity with which Sweden were able to exposed the German defence. Football fans know the cliches that abound with Scanadanavian football; organised, physical, direct, etc. Well, this match had them all and the Swedes’ opponents were completely undone by them. Yes, Germany have some young, inexperienced tournament players but the two centre backs that were bypassed by a ball over the top again and again are 27 and 29 respectively. They were astonishingly naive throughout this match and there was no remedy being concocted from the sidelines. World Cup winners tend to get their hands on the prize with at least one bad performance somewhere in their match schedule. This was Germany’s off day and they weren’t able to grind through it to get a result.
The Netherlands are next for Sweden and Blågult will be looking to exact revenge for their Euro 2017 quarter final exit to the Oranje Leeuwinnen. Gerhardsson’s side will be without creative wide player Rolfö who was booked for a pretty innocuous challenge, but they have good replacements in Olivia Schough and Lina Hurtig who will give the Swedes a threat and help dig in to make them hard to beat.
Player of the match: Sofia Jakobsson, Sweden (Her best match of the tournament. A constant threat over the top and down Sweden’s right.)