Day 20: The World Cup kills its darlings
Spain and Sweden will fight it out in the first semi-final
Spain 2 - Netherlands 1
Spain made their first ever World Cup semi-final as Salma Paralluelo scored in extra time to send the 2019 finalists out of the competition. Spain had gone 1-0 up with a Mariona Caldentey penalty after Stefanie van der Gragt handled the ball but van der Gragt herself equalised in added time.
Large portions of this match were all Spain with the Dutch’s 3-5-2 system that had served them well so far being heavily stressed. With Danielle van de Donk suspended, Damaris Egurrola (a former Spanish youth international) came in to play as the 6, with Jackie Groenen tasked with man-marking Aitana Bonmati and Jill Roord playing as the 10.
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The Netherlands’ midfield immediately looked unbalanced with Mariona Caldentey’s tendency to drift inside meaning that despite Aitana struggling to get on the ball, the Dutch still had a player advantage. Mariona’s movement also left Sherida Spitse struggling with the vacated space enabling Ona Batlle to push on and put pressure on Victoria Pelova, who through no real fault of her own demonstrated that she is not a defender. With the Dutch wing-backs pushed back by the Spain attack, they also found they had barely any outlet. The Spanish missed a heap of chances in the first half and should have been a couple of goals up at that point.
The Dutch did seem to get a better handle on the game in the first half, helped further when Lynn Wilms replaced Jill Roord. Bringing on a natural fullback allowed Pelova to move centrally as well as shoring up the Dutch defence. Yet with Stefanie van der Gragt conceding a penalty the Dutch suddenly had to go for it, and gaps began to open up in the Spanish defence. Lineth Beerensteyn’s hold up play caused them a lot of issues and despite the Dutch eventually losing the match, Sweden will be looking intently at the frailties that were exposed when they began to get stressed.
For the Dutch, their exit will be a set of what ifs? Perhaps if Danielle van de Donk had been available, their midfield would have looked more robust. Equally they made the quarter-finals, and forced the game to extra time, without their best player in Vivianne Miedema. The system Andries Jonker used certainly allowed them to frustrate teams in the group stage like the US but in the end, it just did not offer enough offensively and relied too much on some miracle saves from Daphne van Domselaar.
Japan 1 - Sweden 2
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