In the blistering heat of Valenciennes, the Netherlands beat Italy 2-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals.
The European Champions made it 11 consecutive tournament matches without defeat as they qualified for their first-ever World Cup semi-finals despite oppressive heat. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Sherida Spitse
Spitse is the Netherlands’ defensive midfielder. She’s the one who patrols midfield and mops things up for the Dutch. She also takes a ridiculous set-piece, as she has suddenly started doing at the World Cup.
After nothing in the first two games, Spitse’s free-kick was turned in by Anouk Dekker in the Dutch’s must-win game against Canada. Then at the start of their round of 16 clash against Japan she slipped a near-post corner in to Lieke Martens who backheeled it in.
Sherida Spitse has provided more assists than any other player at the 2019 #FIFAWWC (4).
Pint-point accuracy today. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/oCb7iCEoF5
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 29, 2019
Two assists in two games, and then came Italy and Sherida “Set-Piece” Spitse was at it again. All through the second half her set-pieces began piling the pressure on Italy’s defence, and after 70 minutes her gorgeously curled free-kick cracked them in two and Vivianne Miedema headed the Netherlands into the lead.
Then Spitse produced another stunning set-piece just 10 minutes later and this time it was Stefanie van der Gragt at the back-post heading the Dutch into a 2-0 lead and effectively sealing the win. Set-piece must be be her middle name as four assists from dead balls puts her top of the chart for goal creation at the World Cup, and given the roll she’s on you’d be a fool to bet against her making it four straight games with a set-piece assist in the semi-finals!
Loser: Shanice van de Sanden
Shanice van de Sanden is obviously a great player, anyone who has watched the Lyon forward will be able to attest to that. But she has had a shockingly poor World Cup. She’s started every single game this tournament but has been subbed off in four of the five matches, only playing the full 90 against Canada.
Against Italy, van de Sanden had absolutely nothing to show for all her skill. Every defender just ran her down the line and she was only to happy to run with them before thwacking a cross either against their legs or so close to Laura Giuliani that it was almost pointless to let fly. It was so frustrating to watch a player repeatedly waste her chances, and such a relief when she finally got subbed off (after just 56 minutes! The earliest she has left a match so far). Will she lose her place for the semi-final? Let’s see.
Winner: Vivianne Miedema
You can tell Vivianne Miedema is a classic no. 9 because even though she was having a poor game by her standards, a game where her touch was off, her vision was clouded (she missed a glorious chance to put Lieke Martens 1v1 in the first half) and nothing she did was working, she still managed to step up and make a difference.
It took 70 minutes, sure, but eventually the striker stood up and was counted. In classic striker fashion she waited for a set-piece and made an excellent run in front of the dominant Sara Gama and Elena Linari. By skipping ahead of the titanic centre-backs, she was likely to win the header but to score from here needed crisp technique. Luckily for Miedema, she had what was needed and beautifully glanced the ball off her head, redirecting it at pace into the back of the net.
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Loser: Laura Giuliani
With each hero must also come a villain, and as much as Miedema deserves praise for the deftness of her header, Laura Giuliani (who at this point had only conceded a penalty and a rebound from a penalty save) quite obviously should have done better with the shot.
Giuliani has had a great tournament, and in all honestly was pretty good today as well. She commanded her area well and made some decent saves when called upon, but when she dove across for Miedema’s header she absolutely could and should have gotten a stronger wrist to the ball. Instead she missed it completely and let the Dutch get a lead they never surrendered.
Winner: Lieke Martens
It must be hard carrying the attacking burden and expectation of your nation, but Lieke Martens does it all with an almost insulting ease. The Barcelona forward, whose excellent backheel against Japan set the Dutch on their way to victory and whose nerveless 90th minute penalty sealed that win, was a slight doubt for this game although you’d never have guessed it.
Martens picked up a knock against Japan but played through it and was constantly the most vibrant forward on the pitch for the Dutch. She took players on, skilled them up, and generally was a constant menace. Her movement off the ball was deadly as well and she could have had another goal if her team-mates were switched on.
In a tournament where some of the bigger attacking names are starting to flex their muscles as we reach the knockout stages, Lieke Martens playing herself into this kind of form should terrify anyone who stands in the Netherlands way.
Loser: Valentina Bergamaschi
As much as the game seemed like a foregone conclusion by the end, note that it was anything but coming in. The Italians have had an excellent World Cup and will go home full of pride. Of course, they need not be going home at all. They were perhaps one kick away from being in their first-ever semi-final.
17 minutes into the game, a lofted cross to Barbara Boninsea saw the striker deftly head the ball beyond her marker and towards Valentina Bergamaschi who was unmarked at the back-post. Despite wearing no. 2, the Italian is a striker (for AC Milan) and should have controlled the ball and buried the chance – giving the Italians a lead that, in the oppressive heat of Valenciennes, would have allowed them to settle in and play their counter-attacking game to the fullest extent an expose what can be a ropey Dutch defence.
Instead, Bergamaschi went for a first-time shot and ended up gently lofting a backpass through to Sari van Veenendaal. On such moments do World Cup campaigns live or die. Unfortunately for Italy’s gladiators, Bergamaschi’s effort came back thumbs down.