LYON (AFP) – The Netherlands’ rise as a force in women’s football continued on Wednesday night 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 goalless 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.
A Sari van Veenendaal save from Lina Hurtig in the 37th minute was the only chance of note in the first half, but the Dutch goalkeeper and captain denied Sweden again in the 56th minute as she tipped Nilla Fischer’s low shot onto the post.
On this evidence, it is remarkable that Van Veenendaal was released by Arsenal prior to the tournament.
That was not the best save in the second half, though, with Sweden’s Lindahl displaying stunning athleticism to tip a Vivianne Miedema header onto the bar.
Extra time approached, although substitute Shanice van de Sanden might have won it in stoppage time had her powerful strike not been tipped over by Lindahl.
The Dutch had seen Lieke Martens go off at half-time having been an injury doubt ahead of the game. She is a concern for the final, which her side reached thanks to Groenen finally getting the breakthrough in the first period of extra time.
It was a fine goal by the 24-year-old, but it was agonising for Sweden, and the 2003 World Cup runners-up also saw midfielder Kosovare Asllani go off on a stretcher at the end after being hit in the face by the ball.
They will face England in the third-place play-off in Nice tomorrow night.
“Now it’s about the medal,” said coach Peter Gerhardsson. “Ending up third of course feels a lot better than ending up fourth. We’ll do everything in our power to try to do that.”