Lyon: The Netherlands’ rise as a force in women’s football continued on Wednesday as Jackie Groenen’s extra-time strike saw them edge out Sweden 1-0 in a gruelling World Cup semi-final in Lyon, taking the European champions through to this weekend’s final against the United States.
After a goal-less 90 minutes, midfielder Groenen — a former judo European Championship bronze medallist as a youth who recently agreed a move to Manchester United — broke the deadlock in the 99th minute of a tense contest, breaking Swedish hearts in the process. When Danielle van de Donk’s pass was touched into her path, Groenen sent a low shot from 20 yards beyond the reach of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and into the far corner. Having knocked out Italy and former winners Japan in the previous two rounds, the Dutch are now just one game away from adding a first World Cup to the title they won at Euro 2017 as hosts.
“We never knew this would be possible. It’s one more match and we might possibly be world champions,” said a beaming Groenen.
Getting this far is a remarkable achievement for the “Oranje”, appearing at just their second World Cup, but they will need to improve drastically if they are to stand any chance of defeating the holders. The Netherlands have long been a force in the men’s game, but they had never even been to a major women’s tournament until a decade ago.
“I think the potential has been in the Netherlands for a longer period of time but the facilities were not there,” said Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman, pointing to the start of the Dutch league in 2007 as the catalyst.
“It’s the whole development in the Netherlands and also the individuals that made bigger steps.
“Now they have been in a couple of tournaments so they are very experienced now too and they believe they can perform really well.”
The USA made it through to their third successive World Cup final after beating England 2-1 on Tuesday. That was a game which had it all, and it was always going to be difficult for this second semi-final to reach the same heights.
After ending a long hoodoo against old rivals Germany in the last round, 2016 Olympic finalists Sweden were the better team in the first half here.