Netherlands show steely resolve to see off Swedes
- Netherlands won a 12th successive match at a major tournament and will face the United States in Sunday's Women's World Cup final.
It was not total football that saw Netherlands advance to a Women's World Cup final against the United States, but a cocktail of grit, determination and staying power.
Sweden head coach Peter Gerhardsson had spoken of his admiration for Dutch football ahead of Wednesday's second semi-final in Lyon.
He became "incredibly fascinated" with their style after witnessing the 1974 World Cup final between the men's teams of West Germany and Netherlands, the latter led by Johan Cruyff and the Total Football philosophy that transformed the sport and was adopted and adapted by many of the future teams that would come.
This was not a Netherlands performance that adhered to such principles, though Gerhardsson should have had grudging respect for the way the Oranje secured a 1-0 win over his Swedish side after extra time.
There were two fine saves in either half of normal time from Sari van Veenendaal – who pushed Nilla Fischer's effort onto a post when Sweden were beginning to take charge at the start of the second period – and countless fine last-ditch interventions and tackles from centre-back Stefanie van der Gragt and left-back Merel van Dongen.
A cynical foul by Sherida Spitse even enraged Gerhardsson on the sidelines in the 85th minute. This was certainly not the 1974 team he fell in love with.
That feeling when you're through to the #FIFAWWC Final @oranjevrouwen @FIFAWWC_NED | #FIFAWWC
TV listings https://t.co/t64sDOEs52 pic.twitter.com/XUnXb3Yn6k
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) July 3, 2019
"I haven't seen sound defending all tournament - maybe we need more flashiness but this is the type of defending which will win you tournaments," said BBC pundit and former USA goalkeeper Hope Solo at half-time.
This was one for the pragmatists rather than the purists as Netherlands displayed a steely resolve before finding an extra-time winner with a finish from outside the box by Jackie Groenen.
The Dutch will need to show more of such resilience if they are to stop USA from retaining their title at the same stadium on Sunday.
They certainly have the potential to do so. Vivianne Miedema is her nation's all-time top scorer and struck 22 times in 20 league games for Arsenal last season, while Lieke Martens is on Barcelona's books and Shanice van de Sanden has won back-to-back Champions Leagues with Lyon.
This was not a night for any of that trio. Miedema barely got a sniff, Martens, who had been carrying a toe injury since the last-16 win over Japan, was withdrawn at half-time and Van de Sanden was dropped to the bench after a disappointing tournament.
Instead it was an evening where the defence made their case. Right-back Desiree van Lunteren had eight tackles and as many interceptions, impressing deep into extra time as she dashed back to stop a cross coming in.
8 - Netherlands have become the eighth different side to reach a #FIFAWWC final, and the fourth different European side to do so. Momentous. #NED #NEDSWE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 3, 2019
An assignment with Megan Rapinoe may be awaiting for Van Lunteren on Sunday, but Euro 2017 champions Netherlands will have belief they can upset the odds having won 12 consecutive matches at major tournaments.
The last of seven European quarter-finalists standing, Netherlands are one win away from securing back-to-back tournament titles having never played in a major competition until a decade ago.
Cruyff and the total football team of 74 came up short in that World Cup final Gerhardsson witnessed and USA will be big favourites to win it all again at the weekend.
But, as Solo herself noted, this type of defending just might win a championship.