It wasn’t pretty, but they eventually got the job done. The Netherlands were favorites coming into the match and had just enough to make good on that promise. But those of us who were hoping for an expansive attacking experience had our dreams dashed pretty quickly. The opening half hour was pretty open, with both sides seeming quite willing to try the audacious pass when the chance presented itself. But neither were especially sharp, and after trading a pair of excellent chances in the opening quarter hour, things settled down into a match with a lot of back and forth through the middle of the pitch but not much happening near the goals.
As the match progressed, the ominous possibility of a 0-0 draw and penalties began to loom more and more heavily over the match. And yet…there were some very close calls along the way. It didn’t necessarily feel exciting, but a couple fingertip saves on both sides were necessary to keep things level. A few inches either way and several shots could have gone in, rather than ringing off the post.
But it wasn’t to be. And so extra time arrived. Something neither team would have wanted—given that the winner would need to play against the fittest and most athletic team in the world for the championship in a few days. But neither was willing to switch game plans to open things up, either.
The frustrating part of the game is that both sides actually did a lot of things very well. This wasn’t a situation of two teams both sitting deep and hoping to play on the counter. Both actually played somewhat expansively. Sweden pressed very aggressively for large portions of the game, routinely challenging the Dutch defense all the way back to their own box. And the Netherlands kept pushing high, hoping to hit balls over the press to find their array of attackers.
The result was a match with a lot of good individual performances—almost all happening in the defensive end—but very little variation or excitement. Sweden defended very well collectively, and made it extremely difficult for the Dutch to play. And none of the high quality Dutch attackers ever managed to do much to break the lines. On the other side, the Netherlands backline looked nothing like the porous unit that had struggled so much previously in the tournament. Especially the fullbacks. Van Dongen was immense, and Van Lunteren had the best game I’ve seen from her.
And so Sweden just couldn’t manage to get anything going. But not for lack of trying. Asllani was in constant movement, and tried every trick in her book. But she needed to find the perfect pass and it never came.
And so we mostly got stalemate. A dreary game. Not because they were awful, but because they weren’t good enough to overcome the other. Apart from one moment of magic, the Dutch looked like a limited team out of attacking ideas. But that one moment should serve as a reminder of what this team can actually do.
The Netherlands, after all, absolutely obliterated some excellent teams in the Euros two years ago. We haven’t seen any real evidence that this Dutch team has the energy or form to repeat those performances. But in these tiny glimpses, the quality does show. If they can bring that sort of fire for longer stretches on Sunday, they might just have enough to beat the US.
I wouldn’t bet on it though, especially after they just spent 120 minutes running this game out. And the US will have an extra day’s rest. But that’s why they play the game. So we’ll just have to wait and see!