FIFA Women’s World Cup Day 27:

SEMI FINAL: THE NETHERLANDS 1-0 SWEDEN (a.e.t.)

Jackie Groenen’s winner takes the Netherlands to their first World Cup Final.

JACKIE GROENEN’S extra time strike was enough to take the Netherlands to their first World Cup Final. In a cagey encounter with chances at a premium, it was goalkeepers Sari van Veenendaal and Hedvig Lindahl that shone, making several world-class stops between them to ensure the match reached 90 minutes scoreless. But Lindahl could do nothing about Groenen’s low 20-yard drive that puts Sarina Wiegman’s European Champions on a collision course with the USA in Lyon this coming Sunday.

Sweden Head Coach Peter Gerhardsson had planned to make two changes to his starting eleven with Lina Hurtig coming in for suspended Fridolina Rolfö and Nathalie Björn taken the place of Elin Rubensson.  Björn was taken sick before kick-off so Rubensson retained her spot.  Lineth Beerensteyn took the right-wing berth from out-of-sorts Shanice van de Sanden for the Dutch.

The first half was a bit of a chess match with both defences on top. Sweden found a sharper tempo to their passing and created the better chances. On 13 minutes, Sofia Jakobsson burst through the Dutch midfield and played in Stina Blackstenius, but the striker fired straight at van Veenendaal, who spilled but got to the loose ball before Jakobsson.

Sweden continued to probe with Rubensson enjoying her unexpected involvement and looking the most composed midfielder. They won a series of corners and looked to crowd the six-yard box to make life as difficult as possible for the Dutch defence. Kosovare’s low corner from the left caused panic in the Dutch box on 37 minutes; Rubensson’s shot from the edge of the area was blocked, but Hurtig forced van Veenendaal to react quickly from the ricochet, saving with her legs.

The Oranje Leeuwinnen, meanwhile were restricted to distance strikes. Sherida Spitse’s low drive on 39 minutes was the best of their efforts but fizzed well wide.

The Netherlands were forced to substitute winger Lieke Martens at half time with new Arsenal signing Jill Roord coming in for her sixth consecutive appearance at the World Cup.

Blågult kept the pressure on. Erikkson’s corner from the right was half dealt with by van Veenendaal but the ball eventually broke to Nilla Fischer whose low drive had the Dutch stopper at full stretch to push on to her right hand post.

Not to be outdone, Lindahl was soon making a ‘worldie’ of her own, acrobatically tipping Vivianne Miedema’s header onto the bar from Spitse’s driven corner.

The Scandinavians had a good claim for a penalty on 66 minutes when Desiree van Lunteren appeared to take Hurtig’s legs out from under her near the by-line, but neither the VAR officials, nor more surprisingly the Swedish team, suggested any further action needed taking.

Both sides had a chance to win the match in the final few minutes. Magdalena Eriksson wasted a free-kick in a promising area firing over the bar when a low, whipped cross into a crowded six-yard box was the better option. At the other end, Lindahl’s reflexes were sharp to tip away a fierce 15-yard drive from substitute Shanice van de Sanden.  

The Netherlands, who have scored several late goals during the tournament, demonstrated better fitness in extra time and dominated possession. They looked the more likely to engineer a winner and it came on 99 minutes. Daniëlle van de Donk picked up the ball in the Swedish half, speared a pass through the defence to Miedema, who immediately laid it off to Groenen and the new Manchester United signing despatched a low drive past Lindahl from the edge of the box.

Sweden’s reserves finally appeared to be exhausted and they were unable to create a clear-cut opportunity before the end. The Dutch, meanwhile, tried to kill their opponents off, with the game stretching and Van de Sanden’s pace causing problems down the right, though her decision-making and technical quality were all over the place. Miedema headed a Spitse corner wide and Van de Sanden horribly miscued a shot off the outside of her right boot when one-on-one with Lindahl.           

The Dutch squad now stay in Lyon to recover for a showdown with the United States, while Sweden must now travel to Nice for the Bronze medal match with England.  Both sides could have done without the extra 30 minutes on a day’s less rest than their forthcoming opponents; but the Netherlands can at least ride an adrenaline wave to get them recovered and firing for their shot at the 2019 world title…

Player of the match: Sari van Veenendaal, Netherlands (Made vital saves to keep her team in it when Sweden were applying the pressure either side of half time.)

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