The National Women's Hockey League continues its offseason with numerous player signings, its first international draft and several front office moves. In case you've missed anything over the last few weeks, let's take a look at what's happened in the league.
Netherlands 2-0 Italy
Europe is in the middle of a blistering heat wave, and after yesterday's fast-paced antics, the third hotly anticipated match of the quarterfinals moved a lot more slowly. Our heroes are hot and tired, and it's a lot harder to maintain your composure and finesse when it's "mandated cooling breaks" degrees outside.
The Azzurre shone the first half and the Oranje had difficulty breaking through one of the toughest defenses in the tournament, but as the day wore on and cracks in the wall started to form, the Oranje attack was able to capitalize on set pieces and net two stunning goals late in the match to advance to the semifinals.
What We Learned:
- Climate change ruins the party again: Imagine the glory of this matchup if these squads were able to play each other not in the middle of an extreme heat wave. The heat, and the exhaustion, and occasional desperation that come from it, led to some unfortunate errors on both sides, notably some fouls that led to conceded free kicks on the part of the Azzurre. It's also a reminder, as extreme weather patterns in milder regions become the new normal, of what's ahead for the game we love, and the role we all have in addressing it.
- Sometimes, you have to rely on set pieces, and that's okay: We saw this during the USA-France match as well. Some set pieces are just going to be impossible to defend, and you can do your best, but you have to accept them as somewhat of an inevitability, especially when they're being served right to Wendie Renard. The Oranje had trouble making things happen in the run of play, but their set pieces today were excellently timed and seemed a headache to defend.
- Sherida Spitse (feat. Vivianne Miedema): With the pace of the match and the tough conditions leading to fewer chances on both sides, capitalizing on defensive errors was the most effective way to break through. Both of the Oranje's set piece goals – a perfectly-timed Vivianne Miedema run to beat the Italian defense and a follow-up from Stefanie van der Gragt – came from measured, strong service from the boot of Sherida Spitse. She did what she had to do to get the Oranje on the board, and did it well.
- Valentina Giacinti: The leading goalscorer in Serie A last season didn't score today, but has left an impression this entire tournament. She ran her legs off today, connecting with Barbara Bonansea and the other Valentina, Bergamaschi (who also had a strong start to the match with some crafty runs and a pair of good chances). This is such a cliché but we know sometimes clichés are true – she left it all out on the pitch today, and we will miss her in the semifinals.
- A thing I've been thinking about every time I hear the Dutch fans' horn section play "Go West" is how much sports fans around the world owe to disco and its creators. Happy Pride, remember where you came from!
- From Shanice van de Sanden consoling her club teammate Saki Kumagai to a throng of Dutch players rallying around a devastated Valentina Giacinti today, the Oranje definitely win the Spirit Award.
The Azzurre's dream comes to an end, but what a run for Italy in this tournament! If the Italian FA and the domestic league continue to grow and invest beyond a handful of big clubs and pay these players what they are worth, the Azzurre will fully be back to being regular contenders instead of a Cinderella story. The Netherlands face Sweden in the second semifinal on Wednesday.
Germany 1-2 Sweden
Coming up against a German side that has looked steady and unbeatable this tournament, it looked as though Sweden would be finally facing their Waterloo. Germany out-possessed Sweden almost 2 to 1 and outpaced them on shots and accurate passes, with Lina Magull opening the scoring on an almost gymnastic leaping shot on a perfectly-timed Sara Däbritz assist. But Sofia Jakkobson was a Super Trouper, capitalizing on a rare defensive error for Germany for a blistering counterattack and equalizing. Germany called S.O.S. and brought in Dszenifer Maroszán, but it wasn't enough as Stina Blackstenius buried one just after the start of the second half, and Germany never recovered. And, as they say, The Winner Takes It All.
(I would like to apologize to the nation of Sweden for these gratuitous ABBA references on their impressive victory – except I am not sorry.)
What We Learned:
- The Mind Game is Just as Important as the Physical One: As with the earlier match in the day, the pitch was searing hot, adding to the pressure of a longstanding international footballing rivalry and a spot in the semifinals. Many fans and pundits probably went into this match thinking it was Germany's to lose, and as soon as Sofia Jakkobsen capitalized on a mistake to equalize, it felt like we were watching a much less composed, cohesive German squad than we'd seen the rest of the tournament. The heat, the competition, dwelling on errors – it's a perfect storm, and one Sweden was able to weather to a win.
- Sofia Jakkobson and Linda Sembrant: Jakkobson’s equalizing run was terrific, but it was Sembrant who spotted the opportunity and was the architect who made it all happen. Long balls are so hard to get right and often get lost in the ether (I've watched enough MLS matches to know) and the timing on that assist, with the weight of that ball for Jakkobson to meet it, was just sublime.
- Hanna Glas: Germany only had a handful of chances after the blistering first half, but Hanna Glas was consistent and impressive at neutralizing them when they advanced. Please bring Hanna Glas all the Gatorade. Make sure she is properly hydrated and rested for the semifinal.
- Lina Magull: She gets a shout for that awesome semi-bike (electric scooter?) goal alone. The physics of goal-scoring are difficult to comprehend and sometimes you've just got to give it up for a shot that was effective and looked super cool.
- This is the first time Germany has conceded a goal all tournament, and the first time they have conceded a goal in the first half of a World Cup match since 2003. The goal-scorer of that conceded goal? Hanna Ljungberg, of Sweden. If you're hearing the X-Files theme music in your head right now, that's pretty normal.
The Nationalelf are eliminated and return home to focus on preparing for the European championships. Sweden survives another day and advances to face the Netherlands for a spot in the final on Wednesday, albeit likely without Nilla Fischer, who suffered a rough injury in the second half, and without Fridolina Rolfö, who picked up another yellow card.
Filed under: 2019 women's world cup; soccer; team netherlands; team italy; team germany; team sweden; sherida spitse; Vivianne Miedema; valentina giacinti; sofia jakkobson; linda sembrant; hanna glas; lina magull
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