So the denouement of the Women’s World Cup 2019 takes place in Lyon this coming Sunday (July 7th). It will see the holders, USA contest their 3rd one in a row taking on the current European Champions, Netherlands who will be playing in their first final. My preview and prediction as below:-
USA – ROUTE TO THE FINAL
Thailand – W13-0 – A no mercy performance, pretty much telling everyone that we are here to defend our crown and we ain’t messing about.
Chile – W3-0 – Another routine performance and result, could easily have been more and not just with Carli Lloyds’ late penalty miss.
Sweden – W2-0 – Both sides already through and Sweden with a weakened team. Another early goal from the holders set the tone, and a second meant both sides were happy with their group stage work, USA keeping on winning and Sweden going into the so called easier half of the draw.
Spain W2-1 – An early goal suggested Spain would go the way of their group opponents, however the USA found themselves pegged back in a physical game. It took a soft penalty to restore their lead late on. They deserved the win, but they were given one hell of a game and challenge won.
France – W2-1 – What a fantastic game, the hosts v the holders. USA again scored early through Megan Rapinoe and controlled the game. France huffed and puffed before Rapinoe doubled the lead just after the hour mark. They then had to withstand a French resurgence with a late goal conceded but their game management was on task and they saw it out to victory well.
England – W2-1 – In another cracking game, the USA showed what they are all about. Another early goal put them ahead in a match they were dominating. The opposition equalised against the run of play, but that just revved them up more and they were soon ahead again and in complete control. Late drama ensued due to VAR with a disallowed goal and an England penalty. However this was saved by the keeper, Alyssa Naeher, and they saw the rest of the game out very professionally to make it to yet another World Cup Final.
Key player – Rose Lavelle – The midfield engine within a side full of superstars. Her drive in the central areas has allowed the other players in the team to exert their authority in matches to the fullest extent. The team as a whole has struggled when she has been substituted, especially in the semi-final, where she had to go off with a hamstring strain.
Notable mention – Megan Rapinoe – has had a lot to say for herself through the tournament but has stepped up to the plate, her 4 goals against Spain and France were huge and showed she is a big match player. She missed the semi-final due to a slight injury, but expect her back for the final.
Six matches, six wins. Comfortable in the group stage, but they have been more than tested during the knockout rounds, when it really matters with successive 1-2 victories, all done in different ways. This side are hell bent on retaining their title and are rightly favourites to do so. Manager, Jill Ellis has a star squad and has managed them well, her decision to play Christen Press, instead of Megan Rapinoe in the semi-final was inspired and a key element in the positive result. She and the players won’t see this campaign as a success unless they are lifting the trophy in Lyon on Sunday – mentality of the highest order.
NETHERLANDS / SWEDEN – ROUTE TO THE FINAL
New Zealand – W1-0 – A poor game in which the Netherlands were the aggressors, but not by much. An undeserved stoppage time winner from substitute Jill Roord made the difference.
Cameroon – W3-1 – A strange first half performance where they took control then allowed their opponents back in and not for the last time in the tournament. They reasserted in the second half with two goals to seal victory.
Canada – W2-1 – With both teams already qualified this was a strange game that only came to life with quick goals (Dutch opener, Canadian equaliser) from either side early in the second period. To be fair to the Netherlands they went out to win the game after this period and won it late on to keep up their 100% record.
Japan – W2-1 – Took complete control of the game and scored early, then similarly to the Cameroon game, they took their foot off the gas and were pegged back. Japan dominated the second half and should have scored at least a couple of goals but for poor finishing, the woodwork and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. A late VAR penalty for the Dutch saw them luckily win the match and move into the quarter finals.
Italy – W2-0 – A cagey first half led way to Dutch domination after the break. It took until the 70th minute for the breakthrough, then a second arrived 10 minutes later. In complete contrast to the previous round, a well deserved victory.
Sweden W1-0 (after extra time) – Second best in the first half, but they steadily improved eventually blunting the Swede’s endeavour. Dominated the first period of extra time scored with a sublime strike from Jackie Groenen – ORANJEBOOM!!! They saw out the game and a first appearance in a World Cup Final is the reward.
Key Player – Sari van Veenendaal – goalkeeper and captain who has led from her goal and more. She has performed superbly in the tournament. Has made key saves in matches especially in the round of 16 when they were being overrun by Japan at will and then in the semi-final against Sweden. They would not be in the final if not for her, simple as.
Notable mention – Dominique Bloodworth, centre back who along with the keeper has been outstanding through the competition. Solid as a rock in the Dutch back four, a no nonsense defender whose timing has been impeccable especially in recovery challenges. She has played every minute of every game and has been an underrated element of the team, just doing her job superbly with minimum fuss. All top teams need these kind of players and she is one.
With the players that they have at their disposal, especially in an attacking sense you would normally not be overly surprised to see the Netherlands in the final, but the fact is that said attackers have not really come to the party on a consistent basis. It has been the solid defensive foundation that is the main reason they have made it this far in my opinion. To be fair their forwards have shown up sporadically and goals from Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema were huge in the first two knockout rounds. Without being at the best consistently, with what has been a pretty settled first 11, through a match in the tournament, the European Champions have found a way to get to the final. Sarina Wiegman has been the manager during this golden period for the team over the last 2 years and seems to have a midas touch, huge credit must go to her, especially as criticism from pundits have been made from a country who have never won a major trophy in Women’s football, sounds a bit like sour grapes to me. One thing is for sure the manager and her players have their toughest possible test against the holders on Sunday.
USA are strong favourites and rightly so, they are the number one team in the world and been the best side at this tournament to date. They have stood up to every challenge thrown down to them brilliantly. It does feel that the Netherlands have found their way to the final on stealth but to be fair when it has really mattered they have stepped up and done what is required, whether it is a late attack to get a VAR penalty or some lovely passing interchanges in extra time to then smash home a brilliant winner. They deserve to be there no matter what jealous looks or snipes they might be getting from elsewhere.
Both sides are physically strong and can put themselves about, the midfield battle will be a key area. Rose Lavelle is a doubt due to a hamstring strain but with players such as Mewis and Horan also available the cover is there and they will not mind the battle that will be forthcoming from the Dutch midfield three of Sherida Spitse, Daniëlle van de Donk and Jackie Groenen.
If the Dutch are going to stand any chance two things need to happen. Firstly they need Vivianne Miedema to step up to the plate. She has looked off the pace a lot of the time, maybe a long hard season has caught up with her. The other is to stop the USA scoring early. Their latest first goal has been in the 12th minute and that was in the 13-0 demolition of Thailand, their easiest opponents. If the Netherlands concede early, they are going to be in for one hell of a long night in my opinion.
So when push comes to shove, I am going to go with the USA to retain their title. It will be tough as the Dutch will be the hardest team they have had to score against in the tournament. I think the Americans will keep chipping away and will breakthrough a couple of times in the second half to win 2-0.
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