The preview here has a more detailed description of the situation. In short, England was the only remaining FIFA top10 team in the competition. But the Netherlands not thus far behind while the other semi-finalists ranked both worse. From this perspective this was kind of a premature final. Or at least the winner – whoever it would be – also favorite for the final. Alsothese two had been the only ones to win all group matches (and obviously the quarter finals). Thus the in-form teams of the competition with England also booking the biggest result of the championships – a 6:0 win against Scotland.
Headline: Way paved for the Dutch now?
Just according to the last English headline where it seemed to be paved for England. Is the difference on paper now bigger in favor of the Netherlands? Whatever. Probably not as much as the advantage of Germany had been over Denmark on paper.
But it was already all about making your advantages count here. The Dutch showed their best performance by some margin of this tournament so far. And England their worst playing with their better team. So it was again the path to the finals that played a decisive role and the fact that you have to have the right opponent at the right time to go through such a tournament.
England didn’t play badly. But not quite as well and as fresh as before. And not quite with the same line up. And not with the lucky bounce of the ball in their favor as like before.
The Netherlands played very well. Especially unexpectedly in defense. And turned the big English advantages they have had so far around and into their own.
What happened on the pitch
The Netherlands played with a purpose from the very first whistle. Bad luck England. They had already beaten Spain and France and didn’t concede against them. So they were a little bit too confident nothing would happen again and didn’t smell the danger when they started to sit a little bit deeper as they did successfully already against the other two. On a good day you can add two deep sitting mids to this – and don’t get too much under fire. But sometimes it is just too much.
Spain hadn’t had nearly any good chance against England. But against France it had been already good luck for England. And against the Netherlands it was just asked too much. Because the Netherlands have some better players than France up front. It wasn’t an individual action from Vivianne Miedema that beat them. And not one of Jackie Groenen. As we mentioned in our preview. It was just the two of them combined.
Maybe some women’s football fans will ask the “football-for-men-only” fans simply to show them as good a cross as Groenen’s from last years men’s EC. Maybe to show them as good a header as Miedema’s.
There is always that right moment needed to have where no defender is accidentally standing in the way anyhow just in the decisive split second. But that was a rather perfectly executed goal and it was the 1:0 that shocked England who had to realize their defense is not invincible anymore. And England had just conceded a goal in a way they have always been the better side so far. The ability of their offense to be clinical in front of goal.
England needed some time to swallow it. And the Netherlands were even more on the front foot driven also by the enthusiastic crowd in the stadium. But slowly England started to fight back. They started to push the Netherlands back. But already in the remaining minutes of the first half you could see the ball bounce just wasn’t the friend of the English team this time. Not in front of the goal where it didn’t bounce for Jodie Taylor or Fran Kirby to get into a shooting position. And especially not against the woodwork after a too well placed header from Jade Moore that bounced off the post into the English direction. Scenes like this usually are the scenes which do or do not decide semi finals. And this did not.
But there was still a second half to go. England fought on and continued to have the upper hand. But the next scene that usually was one of these which do or do not decide semi finals did. But on the English end. It was a rather poor unforced error and it should be game over already for England off a fault they hadn’t made thus far in the tournament and that you usually can’t afford in a semi final. But hats off to Danielle van de Donk to be there at the right place to make the most of it. And it summed up the match because it seemed most of the time the Dutch players seemed to have a clear advantage to be there where they needed to be at the right place at the right time.
England though didn’t stop to try but you could see the confidence level of the Dutch growing every minute of the game especially when they realized the bounce of the ball still wasn’t getting England’s friend. Kirby had come through and the ball bounced against the foot of Ellen White. But not slow enough for her to get a proper shot off nor fast enough to beat vanVeenendaal who also just couldn’t be beaten when White’s lob passed her but also the empty goal and when Taylor had a similar position like from where she scored against France. Only it wasn’t Bouhaddi in goal and van Veenendaal saved the strong but not well enough placed shot and when the ball bounced back – Taylor just couldnt get a second attempt away.
Additionally for the first time in this championships the Netherlands played rather impeccably in the center back area.
So the final minutes with the two goal advantage turned more and more into a celebration festival and the final own goal summed it all up. It just wasn’t England’s day. The Dutch were the better team on the day and had brought the favorite down with a great performance. They scored using their great skills and at the right moments to go through in a rather commanding and convincing way. Only one last step required.
Everything pretty much like expected. The Netherlands had van der Gragt again available to start after she was subbed out early against the Swedes in the last game. That made the same starting line-up again since she is available: Back line with van Lunteren – Dekker – van der Gragt – van Es. Midfield holding: Groenen and Spitse. offensive van de Donk. On the wings van de Sanden right and Martens left and Miedema up front the only one not to support the defense in the own half usually.
England had Jill Scott not available because of the yellow cards she received with both were rather unnecessary. They brought in Fara Williams who plays much deeper in front of the own defense compared to the missing Jill Scott and similar to Jade Moore. Then Jordan Nobbs on the right and Ellen White more on the left. And Fran Kirby behind Jodie Taylor up front. The back line the same like in all important matches: Bronze – Houghton – Bright – Stokes.
So the Dutch set aside any clever ideas to outmanoeuver the English defense and tried the usual way. Probably it was good luck the first goal was created just like we proposed to try it in the preview. Only it seemed to be not generally on purpose because they tried only this one time? Sometimes the football gods give you a kiss even when you don’t quite know what you are doing. But who knows?
Van de Sanden not on the right wing moving wing back Stokes as left back more into the center. Groenen the clever player had moved out of sight of the defense exceptionally far to the right side line and that created a lot space and time for her to get the cross in. And there it was again. The weakness in the back defending high crosses despite you would think Houghton and Bright should be a good duo for this. Obviously against France it wasn’t only a bad day in the office but they are indeed not defending there good enough. It was a superb cross with the right length and was bent away from goal just to be out of the reach of the goalie and awkward for defenders. And it was a great header. But they should have dealt better with it.
And the Dutch also did not as we pointed out would be necessary get Lieke Martens away from Lucy Bronze. So Martens was never a threat for the English goal neither could hold Lucy Bronze back from being most influential down the right hand side for England. England got punished for their faults. The Dutch didn’t. England have a chance to learn. Have the Dutch at least realized them?
The Dutch though didn’t need much danger coming from their wingers because England made exactly the fault we hadn’t seen so far and thus not expected from them. They gifted away a goal without any need or pressure applied. Something that mostly ends costly when happening in such a semi final.
England got heavily punished for relatively small disadvantages they had built in. Mainly adding another very defensively playing holding mid. There are so many things going on there but let us dig a little bit depper step by step. Neither Jade Moore nor Fara Williams usually are threatening the opposite goal. Not in a match like this is the first thing to understand. Because when they are playing against very deep standing opponents they can be. And that is the case in most of the quali games unfortunately.
That left only the top three Taylor, Kirby and White as likely scorers. Jordan Nobbs already a similar case. Scored against Scotland but was not involved in any dangerous scene against France or the Netherlands. But still that is just ok. However difficult with two very defensive 6’s. Lucy Bronze had already come to the rescue against France and was again involved in a ton more threatening actions than the holding mids both together.
Sometimes that can make a difference. After the first match we hoped for Groenen to use the improved acceptance of her performance level to play further up the pitch and not focus too much on defense like she still did in that game. Finally it should be very decisive she did the right thing. Getting the penalty against Belgium and the cross against England wouldn’t have happened if she would have played the deep holding mid position like both the English here and like she had in the opener against Norway.
Summary and Resume
England are out but still made some progress and thus arguably remain probably the best team of this tournament. They are with good chances now to overtake both France and Germany if they are not improving their line-ups in a similar way like England did (in which case France at least would be better).
“You have to be not too disappointed though when they are not very good in playing a fluent passing combination game against strong defenses. And because they found this combination now for the first time they are also quite efficient up front what was so much missing over the last few years. However there will be set backs. And we will see how clever they will stick to it then.”
We wrote on England after the quarters and can only repeat it. And we will see whether England will be able to build on the level they have reached here based on their improved choice of attacking line-up which made the most of a team that was mainly set up to destroy the opposite side’s play over the last two years. And if they are able to go on from there to cancel out the remaining problems. Or if they – like many others – will also go back and change again what they had improved already. It will be very interesting to watch how this is going on.
Especially after the strange decision to choose the roster thus early on. Having some different in form players at hand might have given them more of an advantage. In a semi final every detail counts. And we will see how they deal with the aerial problems in the center back. Very talented players are coming up there as well.
But the match was more a confirmation and exclamation mark for the improvements the Dutch side have made over the last year. However this still was a good day where lots of things have gone the best possible way and lots of players especially in the back line have had a rather good day and at the same time England have had a bad day including a hole in the line up and gifting goals away to be beaten. So there is still a way to go to reach the top nations but it can be done.
And the Netherlands should have probably less of a problem with developing in the wrong direction because the trend looks good apart from being not flexible enough and still heavily depending on some players. Hopefully they can avoid too many overheated expectations. Remember the misjudgement of the German gold medal at the Olympics. The Netherlands have still a difficult task at hand and are no clear favorites to qualify for the WC in France. But let us take it one step after the other.
And there is one big step coming up next …
Not gifted away anything but a strong day
Van Lunteren: 7.5
Again very solid stopping attempts on her side.
Her best game of the tournament
Van der Gragt: 7.5
Simply solid positional center back play
Van Es: 7.5
Another strong performance against Nobbs/Bronze.
Better than against Sweden and +0.5 for the goal
Van de Donk: 7.5
Solid. Still high energy. Thus worked her goal very well
Good as usual. and a header goal
van de Sanden: 7
Not so much effect in offense. But still high energy.
Could be cleverer to avoid dead ends
Dominated Martens and her wing
Mostly solid center back play
Also solid in the center
kept van de Sanden quiet
Helped the defense stay compact.
Unlucky goal -0.5 but also not integrated well
Solid worker in defense. No effect going forward.
Worked well to get her chances. But unlucky
No goal at the wrong time
Always working hard to get things going