Semi-Final time at the Women’s World Cup. Four teams one match from the final – previews and predictions as below.
England v USA – Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon – July 2nd
Netherlands v Sweden – Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon – July 3rd
The Netherlands showed their superior quality in the baking heat of Valenciennes to book their place in a first World Cup semi-final. After a cagey first period from both sides, the Dutch took charge of the match and dominated the second half, controlling possession and pushing the Italians back as they struggled to break out of their own half resorting to crude challenges which saw a number of bookings. The ‘Oranje Leeuwinnen’ created a number of opportunities but it wasn’t until the 70th minute they deservedly broke the deadlock and it was none other than record international goalscorer, Vivianne Miedema, with a great header from a free kick. Just 10 minutes later they sealed the victory, another header from another of the mounting free-kicks the opposition were giving away, this time Stefanie van der Gragt was on the end of the cross to score the goal. A very different performance to their one in the previous round against Japan where they lost their way as the game went on and should have been packing their bags but they found a way with that late Lieke Martens penalty. I think it is fair to say that the Netherlands have looked very average at times, but have also shown flashes of sustained quality and credit to them as they have won all 5 of their games and cannot be underestimated with the quality they have in their team.
The hoodoo was well and truly dealt with in Rennes. After countless defeats to their bogey side Germany in major competitions, including finals at the 2003 World Cup and more recently the 2016 Olympics. For me Sweden have had a bit of bad press at this competition as they have historically been looked at as a bit of a dour side who defend well and look for scraps up front. However in this tournament for me they have shown a real willingness to attack, as well as showing the standard spirit all Swedish sides have, giving them an extra edge. Against the Germans they were outstanding, winning the game after going behind and holding on well, they probably should have extended their lead as they had opportunities to do so. Sofia Jakobsson, who got the equaliser was outstanding running herself into the ground and set the tone. Stina Blackstenius again popped up to score the winner, she gives the Scandinavian’s a real edge up front and is already one of my favourite strikers in the tourney, especially as she is hardly mentioned and underated in my opinion. The Germans huffed and puffed for an equaliser and the closest they got was when hero goalkeeper from the previous round, with a crucial penalty save to preserve their lead, Hedvig Lindahl clattered into German captain Alexandra Popp, a clear penalty, but fortunately for the Swede’s there was an offside interference, so they got away with it, clearly it was their day.
What an opportunity it now is for both Netherlands and Sweden to make the final, they would have both been unfancied at the start of the tournament, so an added bonus for whomever makes the match this coming Sunday. Sweden have already experienced this in their history losing to Germany in the 2003 final and they would love to have another chance to be World Champions. However for me Netherlands are the side that will get through this match, they have shown that they can play in a variety of styles and will be able to deal with a more dynamic Sweden, judging by the way they dealt with Italy. A key element is also the suspension of Fridolina Rolfö, who has been immense in the Swede’s 2 knockout games, a yellow picked up against Germany rules her out of this match. For me the European Champions will get an opportunity to become World Champions. They will take control early, but the Swedes will force their way back in before it is sealed for good late on. 3-1 to the Netherlands and a return to the Stade de Lyon for the final.
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