RENNES, France — Just when it appeared the European champions were on the ropes, they bounced back, and found a way to beat Japan, 2-1 in the round of 16. Netherlands haven’t played their best football at the 2019 World Cup, but they’ve managed to advance.
No. 8-ranked Netherlands, made history by advancing to the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time. There, they will take on the surprise team of the tournament, Italy. Netherlands haven’t quite found that second gear, and Italy have been locked in, and cruising since the start of the tournament.
“I don’t really realize what’s happened,” Dutch winger Shanice van de Sanden told The Equalizer. “We’re going to play in the quarterfinal of the World Cup. That’s history for our country, and us as a team. We can be proud of that.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing,” Dutch midfielder Danielle van de Donk said. “We wrote history with the team again. I just hope we can continue writing history with this team.”
The Netherlands certainly haven’t been playing like a top team. It took a late video-review decision off a handball against Japan captain, Saki Kumagai, that awarded the Dutch a late penalty. Lieke Martens converted, sending Japan home and the Netherlands to the quarters.
Ahead of the Saturday’s quarterfinal clash at Stade du Hainaut, in Valenciennes. Italy coach, Milena Bertolini, has labelled the Netherlands as a favorite to win it all.
In assessing #ITA's potential quarterfinal opponents, coach Milena Bertolini calls #JPN "almost the Barcelona of women's football" and #NED "among the favorites to win it all."
(cc @mandy7n, @HarJournalist and @aishiterutokyo)
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) June 25, 2019
“That’s good that the coach thinks about us like that,” van de Sanden said. “We did something great.”
“I think there are a lot of favorites in this World Cup,” van de Sanden continued. “France are amazing, U.S.A are amazing. I want to look at my team, we can do great stuff. We have an amazing team. I’m really looking forward to the next game against Italy. It will be an amazing game.”
There could be some unfinished business for Italy. Netherlands eliminated Italy during a 2015 UEFA World Cup qualifying playoff. Vivianne Miedema scored all three goals as the Dutch took the two-leg series, 3-2. Italy could do the double by sending the Netherlands home, and also qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after France’s elimination to the United States. The top three European sides at the World Cup will qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Quarter finals! BOOM!?#onzejacht pic.twitter.com/ZUoNhrPugv
— Lieke Martens (@liekemartens1) June 26, 2019
Netherlands dangerous 4-3-3 attack hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. As lethal as Martens, Miedema, and van de Sanden are as a front three, they haven’t caused the same havoc that helped the Netherlands win the 2017 Euros.
The form of the Dutch has been inconsistent to say the least. Japan thoroughly dominated the second half of play in the round of 16, but couldn’t capitalize. Netherlands will hope they can find the success they had at the Euros before it’s too late.
“Yeah, we have done a little bit,” Spitse explained to The Equalizer. “A World Cup is different from a European Championship. We are really happy, and proud that we have won against a top team, Japan. It was not an easy game.”
Kwartfinale?. Door het oog van de naald, maar niet opgegeven tegen een sterk spelend Japan. Een top eerste helft en een hele moeilijke tweede.
Op naar zaterdag in Valenciennes! #OnzeJacht pic.twitter.com/HwY50U4NyW
— Sarina Wiegman (@wiegman_s) June 26, 2019
It’s only going to get harder from here on out. The winner of the Netherlands vs. Italy will take on the winner of another all-European heavyweight tilt. Germany and Sweden, has all the making of a defensive standoff, with penalties possibly being the decider.
If there is extra time, with the dread of looming penalties to come, Netherlands will be prepared. Goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal put on a clinic against Japan. If it comes down to it, she’s more than willing to also take a penalty for her country.
“Yeah of course,” van Veenendaal explained. “I think if you play in a World Cup it can be part of the game. A penalty will make the difference. It’s the World Cup, so you need to prepare for everything.”
A changing of the guard could be in the cards when the Netherlands and Italy battle in Valenciennes on Saturday. The Dutch have shown what they can do, and Italy will be out to prove that they’re an ascending side that’s capable of beating the European holders.
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