Just because the Netherlands narrowly survived their round of 16 match against Japan thanks to a late penalty didn’t mean that they were out of the woods yet with the tough obstacles ahead of them in the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup. In fact, on paper their Saturday match up with Italy seemed like it would be an even greater hardship. Rather than playing in the cool summer air of France, the Dutch were set to play a quarterfinals match in 90-degree weather against a formidable Italian defense that had become a bit of a cinderella story.
For the first 45 minutes, it seemed as though both of those factors had gained the upper hand. Though the Netherlands dominated possession, Italy’s stout defending limited the Dutch in their attempts to get anything on target. As time went on, those chances became far and few between as the attacking players understandably started to show fatigue from the heat. By the end of the first half, it was actually Italy that had more of the notable scoring opportunities, with three shots that were very close to entering the net.
But when the players came out for the second half, it was almost as if the Dutch had stepped into one of those fairy fountains from Legend of Zelda games, and started just as intensely as they did in the first half. Though their initial attacks looked like players were running into brick walls, the materials that made up Italy’s defense slowly devolved into straws and sticks with the Netherlands getting closer and closer to scoring. After so many close opportunities Vivianne Miedema finally broke through for her orange-clad compatriots in the 70th minute with the first goal of the match off of a strong header.
The floodgates seemed to open up soon after that goal. Italy looked quite deflated after letting the ball into the net, and that disappointment started to affect the team’s defending. What was once a match between a frustrated offensive side trying to break through a powerful defense suddenly turned into a match featuring one team overwhelming the other with possession and scoring chances.
About 10 minutes after the first Italian breakdown, the Netherlands’ second goal came from yet another set piece, this time with the ball coming off of the forehead of Stefanie van der Gragt.
The Dutch now have at least a couple hours to breathe and enjoy the moment of this victory as their semifinal opponents won’t be decided until Sweden and Germany finish playing.