Netherlands 1-0 Sweden
The Name of the Game* going into this last semifinal was Confidence. The Netherlands came to the semifinal having won every single one of their matches, the only side other than the United States to do so, and Sweden was riding the high of a resonant win against perennial favorites Germany in the quarterfinal.
In a match that was tense, highly defensive, and fairly evenly matched, Sari van Veenendaal and Hedvig Lindahl were both tested a few times but to zero breakthroughs for a full 90 minutes. Finally, Jackie Groenen broke through with a powerful boot past Lindahl in the 99th minute, and the relief and ecstasy from the Dutch fans and players was palpable.
*I swore I wouldn't do another recap of a Sweden match that was all ABBA references, so this is my One. There you go.
What We Learned:
- Sometimes the Super-Sub Becomes the Starter (and Vice Versa): Lineth Beerensteyn and Lina Hurtig have both had their moments in this tournament coming off the bench as impact subs. Today, they both started in lieu of Shanice van de Sanden and the suspended Fridolina Rolfö, respectively, and held their own when they needed to. Van de Sanden eventually came on to inject some juice into a tired Netherlands attack, and while she made some terrific runs and valiant shots (and even one raise-the-roof to get the crowd going), she didn't find the back of the net.
- This is a Kosse Asllani Appreciation Post: How can you not love Kosovare Asllani? We've given her ups in our World Cup coverage before, but today she managed the attack well and put in an incredible effort today. She took an absolute battering from the Oranje defense and ended up leaving the match on a stretcher. We wish her the best and hope to see her on the pitch soon.
- Desiree van Lunteren: The work of a defender is often unsung, especially on a squad full of crafty goal-scorers like Vivianne Miedema and Lineth Beerensteyn. But neutralizing Stina Blackstenius and Lina Hurtig was essential if the Oranje were to have a real shot at the final, and van Lunteren put in work to do just that. Her tackles came like plot twists on Dead To Me – thrilling, constant, and perfectly timed.
- Sari van Veenendaal: As with yesterday, the fate of a spot in the final rested primarily with the goalkeeper. In the first half, the momentum appeared to lie mostly with Sweden, and Blackstenius, Hurtig, and Asllani all playing well led to quite a few dangerous chances. Van Veenendaal managed to stay cool and keep the clean sheet (with one assist from the post) and probably kept the Oranje in this tournament.
- Kosovare Asllani: (See above.)
- Stina Blackstenius. Dominique Bloodworth. This is truly the Semifinal of Extremely Metal Names.
- Dutch Brass Section Selection of the Day: the Triumphal March from Verdi's Aïda!
- WoSo Silly Season is starting! It started with those rumors about Chelsea dropping lots of cash for Sam Kerr and today, lots of talk from the commentators about players like sole goalscorer Jackie Groenen, who is making the move from FFC Frankfurt to Manchester United. Broadcasts peppered with transfer goss are exhausting but I'm taking them as a good sign in terms of investment and attention to the domestic leagues across Europe.
- With the Netherlands' spot secured, the two squads with the most out gay or bisexual players will appear in the World Cup final. It seems that Megan Rapinoe was right after all: "You can't win a championship without gays on your team."
Sweden, Sweden, Sweden. You scored, you defended, you fought and we were having the time of our lives*. What a joy this squad was, from veterans like Nilla Fischer and the acrobatic Hedvig Lindahl to Lina Hurtig coming into her own to Kosse Asllani, who just plain rules and we hope she gets better soon. We will get to see this fabulous side one last time Saturday as they vie for third place against England.
The Oranje qualified for the Women's World Cup for the first time ever in 2015. Now, they're champions of Europe and playing in the World Cup final. Buoyed by passionate supporters and prime talent getting valuable experience in rapidly improving domestic leagues in France, Spain, and England, they've staked their claim as WoSo contenders. Now, they're what stands between the United States and a fourth World Cup title. We'll see you for the final on Sunday.
*I'm so sorry.