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2023 Women's World Cup

World Cup Quarterfinals, Day 1: Spain narrowly tops Netherlands for first semis in history, Sweden stuns Japan

Photo: Richard Callis / SPP

It came down to the wire, but Spain is going to the semifinals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. They will face the winner of Sweden and Japan, who play on Friday at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Spain 2, Netherlands 1 (aet)

The Big Story: Spain booked a spot in the World Cup semifinals for the first time when 19-year-old Salma Paralluelo scored on a solo effort in the second extra time period to eliminate the Netherlands. The winner came moments after Lineth Beerensteyn misfired on a golden opportunity at the other end. It was at least the third time Beerensteyn entered the Spanish box with a chance to score, but came up empty. After the third chance, the ensuing goal kick was won in midfield by Jenni Hermosso who turned and beat two Dutch defenders with the outlet ball to Paralluelo, who did the rest of the work.

Spain forged ahead in the 81st minute when Mariona Caldentey narrowly converted a penalty that kissed the left post before heading in. But the Netherlands did not go quietly. Stefanie Van Der Gragt, whose arm was just inside the area when it touched the ball to give Spain the penalty, cheated forward and scored an equalizer early in stoppage time, sending the game into extra time.

The Big Moment: After Spain dominated much of the opening half and early part of the second, the Netherlands got in behind on the hour. Beerensteyn shed her mark running onto a gorgeous delivery and was taken down from behind by Aniek Nouwen’s recovery run. After an initial penalty call, a VAR review overturned the call, denying the Netherlands a chance to take the lead from the spot. So much happened after this moment, but it would have changed the entire scope of the match had they been able to play from the lead at any juncture.

What it means: After announcing themselves to the world by only narrowly losing to eventual champions the United States in the Round of 16 four years ago, Spain enter the final four of the World Cup for the first time where they will face either Sweden or rematch Japan, who defeated them in group play, 4-0. It means they will play the maximum seven matches and have positioned themselves on the verge of being a world power in the women’s game.

As for the Netherlands, the quarterfinal exit was their second in as many summers having gone out at the same stage at the EUROS in 2022. They played this World Cup without injured Vivianne Miedema and played the quarterfinal without Daniëlle van de Donk who was suspended for yellow card accumulation. They almost did enough to let van de Donk — who had not been outside a Netherlands starting lineup in a decade — live to see another match but it was not to be. Add in a quiet tournament from Lieke Martens and it is fair to wonder if we have seen the peak of what has been a glorious run for Dutch women’s soccer.

Dan Lauletta

Sweden 2, Japan 1

The Big Story: Sweden sent Japan home, after a dominating Swedish performance through roughly 70 minutes, Japan continued to fight, clawed one back before the end of regulation, but was not able to equalize in stoppage. With Japan out, whoever walks away with the trophy will be earning the first star above their crest for their nation.

The Big Moment: Sweden’s set piece lethality turned out to be what was used to start the scoring on the night. Multiple failed clearances from Japan in the box led to Amanda Ilestedt claiming her fourth goal of the tournament.

What it means: With both teams preferring a possession-based style of play, the Japanese defense came out looking a lot similar to how they approached Spain in the group stage. They allowed Sweden to have possession but their defense of their final third was compact and organized, keeping the Swedes from converting possession into quality chances — at least for a little bit. The first shot of the night from Sweden didn’t come until the 25th minute, but that broke the floodgates on threatening moments for the rest of the half. 

Sweden did learn from watching film on the Japan-Spain game and did a good job at reacting to the Japanese fast break — slowing them down, interrupting the passing lanes and forcing the attack wide while more help arrived. The one thing that was missing in the first half from Japan that they did well against Spain was their clinical ability and choosing the right time to get the shot off. That combined with a Sweden team that is probably looking their best of the World Cup led to no shots coming from Japan in the first half. 

To start the second half, Japan replaced Portland Thorns midfielder Hina Sugita with Angel City FC midfielder Jun Endo in order to give them a bit of a spark and tactically adjust to Sweden. Even with the change, Sweden came out on the front foot, and earned a penalty for a handball in the box within the first five minutes of coming out of the locker room. Filippa Angeldal slotted the ball home to give Sweden the 2–0 lead. 

Japan started looking a bit more dangerous in the latter part of the second half, finally getting their first shot in the 63rd minute and in the 75th minute, a foul in the box led to a Japan penalty being taken by Riko Ueki. It would’ve been Japan’s way back into this match, but it hit off the crossbar and was able to be cleared by Sweden. Finally in the 87th minute, Japan were able to find the netting when Honoka Hayashi pounced on a rebound of a blocked shot off Magda Eriksson and cut the Swedish lead in half.

With 10 minutes of stoppage time, Japan continued to push to keep their World Cup hopes alive, but it was too little too late. After an impressive showing in the first four games of the tournament, Japan had their least impressive showing at an unfortunate time and Sweden fully took advantage. Sweden, on the other hand, played on another level against Japan and they’ll need to continue at that level against Spain in the semifinals on Aug. 15.

Taylor Vincent

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