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'We are not afraid of America!' - After 21 goals in three games, can the USWNT stop the free-scoring Netherlands?

17:00 BST 28/07/2021
Megan Rapinoe Dominique Janssen Vivianne Miedema Lieke Martens split
After losing to the United States in the 2019 Women's World Cup final, the Oranje would love revenge in Friday's Olympic quarter-final

"We do see opportunities against America, because in the group stage it turned out that they are vulnerable.

"Now is the time, now it has to happen.”

Those were the words of Netherlands head coach Sarina Wiegman on Tuesday, after her side had set up a rematch of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, as they prepare to face the U.S. women’s national team in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games on Friday.

There were some who pondered whether the Dutch would hold back in their final group game in a bid to avoid the world champions, who beat them 2-0 in France two years ago.

But while many questioned why the U.S. seemingly played for a draw in their final game, a goalless draw with Australia, there were no signs of the Netherlands doing so.

China were dispatched emphatically in an 8-2 win, with Vivianne Miedema breaking the record for most goals scored in a single Olympic tournament in the process.

She has eight goals in three games, surpassing the target of six which Christine Sinclair scored at London 2012.

With her team-mates adding another 13 in Japan, it is no wonder that they are confident going into Friday’s last eight tie.

“We have again scored eight, which I think is also a gesture to show that we are not afraid of America,” midfielder Danielle van de Donk said. “Let them keep [their] form, because in my eyes they are not very strong now.

“Somehow I feel like, save the best for last. But maybe they are not the best at all, this tournament.”

The goal-scoring of this Dutch team is indeed their strength, which matches dangerously with the defensive fragility that the U.S. has shown.

But the Netherlands have by no means had a flawless route to the knockout stages, even if they come into the last eight in a better place than their opponents.

They have conceded eight goals in three games, with some very sloppy and avoidable ones among them.

Goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, named the best in her position at the World Cup two years ago, has not been in the same form so far, with the defence showing signs of being prone to error.

In fact, only the eliminated duo of China and Zambia, who they beat 8-2 and 10-3, respectively, in the group stage, have made more errors leading to goals in the tournament so far.

Part of that also comes from the absence of Sherida Spitse. The 31-year-old suffered an injury on the eve of the Games which ruled her out of the squad, and the Netherlands have lacked bite in midfield as a result.

The defensive responsibility she would assume has instead fallen on more attack-minded midfielders, with Jackie Groenen and Jill Roord not necessarily having bad tournaments, but they are limited slightly by the need for more reserved mindsets in their own performance.

That could be crucial on Friday. The USWNT have shown repeatedly that they are struggling to deal with midfield runners – and Wiegman will know that.

Van de Donk always poses problems in this regard, and if the Netherlands can somehow unlock that from Roord and Groenen too, it could be match-winning. It is whether, without Spitse, Wiegman can do so.

The reason, though, that so many are looking at this Dutch team as the one that may dethrone the world champions is because of just how strong that attack is.

With her exceptional technique and eye for goal, Miedema is the star name. The USWNT have had problems in central defence this tournament, and the Arsenal star will be hoping to exploit that even further.

For all her quality, she is by no means over-relied upon either.

Barcelona winger Lieke Martens, Bayern Munich forward Lineth Beerensteyn and Wolfsburg's Shanice van de Sanden are all among those more than playing their part to share the goal-scoring burden, while Van de Donk leads the tournament in assists with four.

The depth there is excellent, and the fact that the U.S. have struggled to defend on the wings will be encouraging, given how many in-form wide players they have.

The Netherlands might have some issues to iron out but, for the first time in a long time, there is a sense that the USWNT’s place at the top of the global game is at risk. The Oranje would love to be the team to take their place.

“Beating the USA, that's really on the team's mind here,” Miedema said after the group stages were wrapped up and the quarterfinal lineup confirmed.

“Because of the lost World Cup final, but also because we want to take a medal home.”