By Arnie Leshin
Unless it’s on their home soil, home sweet home at this stage of the Women’s Soccer World Cup is not where Germany and Italy preferred to be.
But that’s where 2nd ranked Germany and much-approved Italy are in route to after getting bounced Saturday out of the FIFA event played in France.
First, the 11th ranked Netherlands, a rising nation to this world-wide event played every four years, used a pair of headers set up by free kicks from Sharida Spitse to shut down 8th ranked Italy, 2-0, before its parade of fans covered from head to toe in orange spurred on by their brass band, to advance to Wednesday’s semifinals at Stude de Lyon, a train ride south of Paris.
It is the first time the Oranje procession advanced this far.
But if it expected Germany, it got Sweden instead. With its one loss, 2-0, against top-ranked USA in Group F, the 9th ranked Swedes had waited 24 years to finally defeat the Germans in a major tournament.
Germany had arrived at Roaden Park in Rennesunbeaten in four matches and without allowing a goal while scoring nine and dominating Norway, 3-0, and it hadn’t been overcome since the 1999 World Cup versus the United States after scoring first, which it did against Sweden. This time it did, but the determined Swedes were up to the task, scoring two unanswered goals to win 2-1, and sending the 2003 and 2007 World Cup champions home.
While the German side was the prohibitive favorite on its side of the bracket, Sweden, which provided a tough test for the Americans in their group final, was confident and relentless, scoring the go-ahead goal just minutes into the second half after a 1-1 deadlock at halftime, and it came from Stina Blackstenius on a breakaway kick from left of the goal.
“We’re going to go for it,” said Sweden head coach Peter Gerhardsson, whose women are now 4-1-0, eliminated Brazil, 1-0, and have outscored their opponents 7-3.
Germany’s head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said her team seemed to lose focus.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” she said, “and we shall not let this bring us down. We hope to learn our lessons from this negative experience.”
Germany was in a 1-1 tie when it employed its final substitute with 20 minutes left. It had scored at the 16:48 mark of the first half, only to have midfielder Kosovare Asllani of Sweden knot the score six minutes later. At the 71st minute of the second half, the Swedes went ahead on a Nia Kunzer kick that followed a corner kick.
Then it applied an aggressive, stout defense to counter each German attack.
It was 13-12 Germany in shots taken, 6-6 on goal tries, 5-3 Germany on corner kicks, and 8-6 Sweden on fouls. Possession-wise, Germany came away with 59 percent to the Swedes’ 41 percent. After the scoreboard clock showed 90.27, six saved minutes were added, and at 96.10, the Swedes began celebrating.
“We didn’t just came to play well,” Gerhardsson said, “we came to advance, and I’m proud that we did.”
Heading into the quarters with seven European countries and the USA, it is now down to Sweden and the Netherlands in one semi Wednesday, and the Red, White and Blue versus 4th ranked England in the other on Tuesday, both on the playing field in Lyon.
It was in Valenciennes at Parcde des Prince that the Netherlands overwhelmed an Italy side that had been progressing due to stellar recruiting off of some of Europe’s better club teams.
But the 5-0 Netherlands had come off a 2-1 win over Japan to take first in their group and followed it up by rolling over Nigeria, 3-0, and were more than ready after Italy blanked Canada, 1-0. TheNetherlands now has scored eight goals and yielded two.
It outshot the Italians, 21-6, were 9-2 in attempts on goal, 2-2 in corner kicks, had 16 fouls against 13, and possessed the ball 59 percent of the time.
It was scoreless at the half, but it didn’t take long before Italy was down two goals. In the 60thminute, high scoring forward Vvianne Miedema headed in a powerful header, her 61st goal in 80 appearances off a delivery from Spitse in a crowd just outside left of the goal. Six minutes later Spitse set up defender Stefanie van der Gragt just outside the goal and this non contested, towering header made it 2-0.
Italy had no answers. Its offense usually shut down at midfield, when it got past that, it had no open shots as the Netherlands closed in.
“We have a lot of confidence,” said Netherlands captain Lieke Marten, “and It has been all teamwork. It’s a great feeling to get this far, hopefully we can continue.”