The preview here has a more detailed description of the situation. In short, it was the relatively “new kids on the block” in the European women’s football establishment Netherlands against the “historic” Swedes who have been never outside of the FIFA top10. It was a year and a few months ago that Sweden won the Olympic Qualification tournament in the Netherlands against the Netherlands and others and then went on to claim the silver medal in Rio. Now it was a new chance for the Dutch to beat them. They had won their group with three wins out of three. While Sweden had been placed second in theirs with one win, one draw, and one defeat. So chances seemed to be good now for the Netherlands.
Headline: Easier than expected
The Netherlands had booked three wins so far but it has always been only one goal that separated the sides so it was tight until the final whistle. That was the first “comfortable” win and it is always nice to book that in a quarter final match. Because for Sweden it wasn’t even too little too late. It was simply too little. There have been chances late in the game to get one back after some unconvincing defending from the Netherlands and who knows … But so it wasn’t even close and not too late – it was just not enough.
What happened on the pitch
Initially it all started more like we had hoped for it wouldn’t. Everything but fluent. Sweden with Nilla Fischer again anchoring the back line looked to prevent the Dutch offense from getting their game going. Which means mainly breaking through over the wings. Janice van de Sanden running after a through ball behind the defence on the right or Lieke Martens dribbling her way past the defense on the left. While Sweden waited for the chance for Stina Blackstenius up front to break through. But nothing of that happened very often in the first minutes.
So neither side managed to put real pressure on their opponents. Both rather focused on giving nothing away. There was little to talk about and not much exciting that happened on the pitch. A header from Nilla Fischer after a set piece. A good free kick position but poorly executed on the other side. Nothing that caused the blood pressure to increase significantly. Until the 32. minute. Even in the replay you couldnt see too much whether the situation was really a foul play. If so, it probably was inside the box. But that wasnt easy to see from the refs angle as well. So it was another free kick just outside the box. And this time Lieke Martens to take it. Might be it was a clever dummy to look at the upper left corner as if she would try to look for the shot over the wall. Maybe she decided rather late to shoot flat right. But it was a very disappointing piece of goal keeping. Because Hedwig Lindahl positioned herself to be neither left nor right. She just waited for the ball in the center and totally behind the wall so she couldnt see the ball as well. The flat shot in the free corner often called the keepers corner wasnt even very precise nor very strong – but Lindahl couldnt get anywhere near to it.
In the second half not much changed. Sweden with an early chance from Fridolina Rolfö who wasnt involved a lot in the first half. And a little bit more urgency from Sweden but far from getting any midfield play grooving. The Netherlands gained even more safe control of the game. And looked the more dangerous side with Danielle van de Donk more able to push the Dutch game for the first time in the tournament. But it was another fast counter attack over the right wing that should decide the game. Shanice van de Sanden with a fine touch this time and very unselfish to the better placed Miedema for an easy tap in. It looked like game over already.
But in the following minutes and until the end the Dutch center back showed why they are still expected to be the Achilles heel. With Stefanie van der Gragt out at half time it was far too easy and far too often that straight long balls between the center backs and the goalie caused trouble. There suddenly came the chances for Sweden to score once or even twice. Once denied by a marginal offside whistle.
Nut it wasnt to be for Sweden and they couldnt offer anything else to threaten the Dutch defense so the last minutes the Dutch fans could calmly wait for the final whistle before the official celebrations could start.
Sweden played like we had seen them already in the group matches. A back line of 4: J.Andersson – Sembrandt – Fischer – Samuelsson. 4 midfielders in front of them. Dahlqvist and Seger central. Schelin right and Asllani mostly left. And Blackstenius and Rolfö up front. Same line up like previously also for the Netherlands. Back-4: VanEs – Dekker – VanderGragt – VanLunteren. Holding midfielder Spitse and Groenen indeed a little bit further. VandeDonk the midfielder with the task to feed and support the offensive line of Martens – Miedema – VanSanden. Tactically the most interesting thing to talk about is that there is nothing to talk about. This was all so much expected and so little change to surprise the opponent or try to cause a little upset or give them a different view to deal with. Maybe it was on purpose that Groenen played a little more distant from her center backs and a little bit closer to the opposite box like we suggested it would be favorable. But it might have come down to own initiative. It was nearly the most remarkable until the last 20 minutes. Because from then on suddenly Sweden changed their view every few minutes. But that looked more like uncoordinated desperation than well thought switches.
Summary and Resume
This looked like the end of an era in the Swedish team and not only for veteran coach Pia Sundhage and you would have wished them a better fair-well. Always the question when the right moment has come. Maybe some would have been better off to call it a day after the Olympic medal? Nobody knows. However. Lotta Schelin was the one against the trend who got better at the end. But never in the 90 minutes she played some kind of football that looked as if it would have cost her a lot of energy. So her batteries could not have been empty. But we also havent seen a lot from Caroline Seger and Dahlqvist. Kosovare Asllani at least started well and can as one of a few claim she might have used up some energy in the first half. But overall there was not much of a fight back against defeat. Also Nilla Fischer didnt look much of a factor to push for a fight back of the team at the end. There are however a lot of talented players waiting in line. A lot of them forward though and they might need an idea how to use them best. Not to bring in energy player Olivia Schough tells a lot.
The Netherlands on the other side lost Van der Gragt at half time due to injury. Though she certainly wasnt on top of her game after the long break at Bayern her absence might have played a role in the fact that the Dutch defense looked rather subpar positioned in defending straight long balls over the center backs. Their weakness there could have easily cost them dear as mainly Blackstenius got the chances to bring Sweden back. A goal from Schelin from such a situation was whistled offside with a super small margin. And the Netherlands needed some good luck to survive as also vanVeenendaal seemed not very good in coming out of her goal to clear the long passes behind the defense.
As the weakness in the center goes on the wing backs however have once again proved to be a strength rather than the expected weakness for the team. Desire vanLunteren is the more established and has gone from decent to strong. But especially Kika vanEs was a positive surprise in this tournament and also developed into a strong wing where they had to make some experiments in the past.
Interestingly now the performances of Jackie Groenen slowly are recognised by a broader audience. You realise it when a player gets the title player of the match despite this wasnt very much her day.
That fault was a big one unfortunately
Defensively a rather good match for vandeSanden.
Solid as usual again
Still the anchor
Started well against Martens but declined a lot.
Needed very long to have any positive impact.
Seemed simply like her batteries were empty from the start
A good first half, but not the second.
Dependent on balls she never got bar one she missed
The only real threat. But not very effective
Have seen her being more a source of confidence in the past
Solid in defense and build up play.
Please fight to be no source of problems
Quite reliable given the long break
Again very solid match
She wasnt stressed too much defensively
Still ok and a decent factor but not her best day
Suddenly back to fine form
Great second goal
Always difficult to defend
Started slow but improved constantly and a clever goal