Dispatch from Valenciennes: Holland on a high

Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman stressed the need for patience before today’s quarterfinal with Italy. The Netherlands certainly kept its fans waiting after a patchy first half. Its second take, though, was nigh on perfect. It deservedly beat an Italian team that ended up resorting to cynical tactics, and paid the price when the reigning European champion scored from two set-pieces that directly resulted from Italy’s foul play.

The Dutch became the third team to reach the semifinal by winning all five of its games so far, following England and the USA. There’s little question that in this tournament, the teams that have made it into the fourth week deserve to be there. And in the second half, the reigning European champions showed they can not only dominate a game, they can play with the consistency necessary to add to their honors.

Rated primarily for their attacking trio of Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens and Shanice Van de Sanden, it was the midfield quality of Sherida Spitse, the busy Danielle Van de Donk, and the under-rated Jackie Groenen – steady throughout this entire World Cup so far - that won the day.

Spitse’s delivery on the two free kicks for Miedema’s and Stefanie Van der Gragt’s headed goals was inch perfect. She also grazed the post with another effort as the Dutch created chance after chance right from the start of the second half. The trio remained composed to win multiple balls, and then distribute them too, at a time when both the temperature of the air and the game were threatening to burst out the top of the thermometer.

This team was supposed to tire in the heat. “Watch in the second half, they’ll wilt,” one Dutch journalist said to me at half-time, perhaps more informed by that peculiar northern European pessimism that readies itself for the worse than by knowledge of his women’s stamina. It was the Dutch who’d unsuccessfully lobbied FIFA for a more sensible kick-off time, with temperatures slated to be 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) at the time of the 3 p.m. start. Yet they came out of the locker room for the second half looking fresher than spring tulips in Amsterdam.

There’s been another factor in the Dutch success, which has been their loud and enthusiastic traveling support. For the second time in this tournament, they enjoyed having a Saturday "home" game in Valenciennes, almost on the French-Belgian border, allowing orange-clad fans in their thousands to come and get behind a team with character, flair and staying power. It’s to be hoped they will make the trip to Lyon for the semifinal on Wednesday.

The Italians, sadly, resorted to kicking out when the Dutch took hold of the game. They failed to exploit two excellent opportunities in the first half, when the Dutch defense was in a more generous mood. Valentina Bergamaschi missed a huge chance alone in front of Sari Van Veenendal after Barbara Bonansea headed her into the clear. The right-back could only chip the ball into the keeper’s arms. Then the nimble Valentina Giacinti dragged her shot wide from the left hand side of the area after Bergamaschi had found her in liberal amounts of space.

The first half was riddled with mistakes from both sides, and seemed to sum up a lot of the Dutch play in the tournament so far. They had most of the ball, played most of the soccer, but couldn’t turn dominance into serious opportunity. Fluent moves ended with weak shots or wayward crosses. Shanice Van de Sanden wasted so much possession she’s probably going to fly home and find she’s lost her house. Only once in the first 45 minutes did she manage to combine with her full-back, Desiree Van Lunteren, who crossed straight at Italian keeper Laura Giuliani.

Van de Sanden’s awful first half was followed by her best spell right after half-time, but Wiegman had seen enough and swapped her out for Lineth Beerensteyn after 10 minutes. The muscular winger did not have the game-winning effect that she’s had in previous matches, but she wasn’t much needed. Miedema glanced home a wonderful header to put her team ahead, and later forced Giuliani into a finger-tip save. Van de Donk hit the cross-bar with a deft lob after a corner fell to her on the edge of the area. As if to prove the all-round talent of the team, Van Veenendaal saved superbly at the feet of Daniela Sabatino on Italy’s lone second half chance.

By then, Italy were 2-0 in arrears and on their way out -- hot and bothered, tired and whiny. They accumulated five yellow cards and, after starting this tournament so well, may have lost some of the admirers they’d picked up. Dirty teams belong with dirty jerseys – out by the back door.

VAR-Watch: Referee Claudia Umpierrez had an almost impeccable game and kept the temperamental, dissenting Italian team under control with several stern lectures and a judicious use of the caution. Her only mistake was in not playing the advantage after Miedema was fouled by Elena Linari in the first half, from which the Dutch striker quickly recovered to nip through on goal with only Giuliani to beat. Linari will have been happy to pay the price of a yellow card for that.

Best of all, though, not a squeak all game from the VAR. It seems that over the past few games, the man in the booth has been sticking more to the remit outlined in FIFA’s own media guide of “minimum interference, maximum benefit”, with intervention only “to correct obvious errors”. There’s been much discussion about France not being awarded a penalty for Kelly O’Hara’s apparent handball late in last night’s game. To me, not giving that penalty was not an obvious error at all. Well played, that VAR. Keep on keeping quiet.

4 comments about "Dispatch from Valenciennes: Holland on a high".
  1. Jack DiGiorgio, June 29, 2019 at 2:17 p.m.

    Such a one sided commentary. Also in the USA-France game the least that the referee could done was to go and see the replay; it was a clear handling the ball and PK for France.

  2. Ian Plenderleith replied, July 2, 2019 at 1:03 a.m.

    But then it was quite a one-sided game. Wasn't sure about presenting the case for negative soccer.

  3. frank schoon, June 29, 2019 at 2:47 p.m.

    The dutch deserved the win and were the better team. But I do like the Italian striker with the blonde hair, too bad she didn't get enough balls and I like their #23 Juliano, the centerhalf.
    Miedema needs to start moving off the ball more. She stands around like a tree outside of the penalty area waiting for someone to pass to her. She needs to move away in opposite direction from where the attack is coming, that would take a defender or two away and create a gap for players to run into. Because of her reputation she needs to be aware to taken a defender or two away from the area and thereby giving the upcoming outside halfback room to move in or shoot...
    All of the women teams are guilty of having players standing around waiting for a ball to be passed to the feet. Rarely will a player break and run towards the ball to receive it. I also saw very little weak side runs from  the women's teams. Very little shooting from outside the penalty area. The two goals scored by the dutch were nice but we should try to be more creative scoring goals and not having to depend on headers like the French did and not succeed. 
    The dutch right wing van Sanden has been very ineffective and neither am I impressed with her sub. I wish women soccer would start to begin to emphasize more tricky wing(er) play for there is so all space. 

  4. Ian Plenderleith, July 2, 2019 at 1:06 a.m.

    Hi Frank, I agree that Van de Sanden has been a disappointment compared with her dynamic showing at Euro 17. I think that her sub, Beerensteyn, is one of those players who really makes things happen when she comes in against tired legs. True, she was not effective on Saturday, but in her previous three appearances she was a game-changer. Martens does the tricky stuff, Beerensteyn and Van de Sanden tend to run at their defenders, which I also love to see.  

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