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Netherlands survive gruelling Sweden clash to set up Women's World Cup final with USWNT

22:45 IST 03/07/2019
Jackie Groenen Netherlands Sweden Womens' World Cup 2019
The Oranje were made to work for 120 minutes to secure their place in the final and face a long road to recovery to challenge the USA

After Sweden’s pre-match press conference, head coach Peter Gerhardsson wandered around the Stade de Lyon’s carpet-like turf.

“This will be impressive,” he said, ahead of their Women’s World Cup semi-final clash with the Netherlands. He was wrong. 

If the United States, through to their third successive final after beating England yesterday, were looking for something to learn from this game, it’s that they have little to fear on Sunday.

Jackie Groenen’s arrowed strike would eventually see the Netherlands through in extra time, winning 1-0 after a gruelling 120 minutes of football, but now they face a long road to recovery before Sunday’s final – all with a day less to do so, too.

Static going forward and lacking creativity in the middle, it was not a performance we have become accustomed to seeing from Sarina Wiegman’s side given the star quality throughout their front line, key in helping them surprise all by winning the 2017 Euros.

It may have been a come down from the pure exhilaration of yesterday’s semi-final between England and the USA, but few would complain at voting this the worst game of the tournament.

Vivianne Miedema, the Netherlands’ 22-year-old star who broke the country’s scoring record earlier this month, was as isolated as ever, with Lieke Martens, The Best FIFA Women's Player of the Year in 2017, hauled off at half time.

For Sweden, their creative spark, Kosovare Asllani, struggled before being stretchered off with a serious-looking injury, with the contrasting colours of orange and yellow behind opposite goals the most eye-catching aspect of a very cagey affair.

But what Jill Ellis and her coaching team will know if that they will have to work much, much harder to break down the Netherlands in the final than they did England in the semi-final.

While the Lionesses were shaky at the back, suspect to errors and messy in their marking, the Oranje were tight and compact, allowing Sweden little to no opportunity in breaking them down.

Dominique Bloodworth and Stefanie van der Gragt were immense, with Desiree van Lunteren unbeatable down the right-hand side – the latter particularly pleasing for Wiegman given Christen Press’ display against England and Megan Rapinoe’s potential return for the final.

When Sweden did break through, they found Sari van Veenendaal in their way. Her reflex save in the first half to deny Lina Hurtig was impressive enough, but a fingertip save to push Nilla Fischer’s strike onto the post was even better.

There was no glitz and glamour here. No superstars grabbing headlines with their celebrations and certainly no game for the ages.

But if the Netherlands – who had been unconvincing at the back this tournament up until this game - can be this tight defensively against Alex Morgan and co., there is no reason to write them off.

After finishing third in their group at the 2015 World Cup, the Oranje suddenly have a chance to hold the titles of European champions and world champions at the same time – and against all the odds.

Now that, would be impressive.