In a game of two very different halves, it was upsetti but gnocch regretti for spaghetti-enthusiasts Italy as their surprising WWC run came to an end at the hands of the Oranges, who twice found the back of the net to ensure we weren’t seeing the back of the Net-herlands just yet in this competition.
Over 15,000 Dutch fans travelled for the game, streaming through the small town of Valenciennes like a fanta-sea. And why wouldn’t you make the trip? Having to drive only two hours over the border to get to the game, whilst a two-hour drive for me would land me an untimely death in Snowtown- but at least my return trip home in a barrel would be organised.
Netherlands came in hot favourites- and here’s why: 1. They’ve won their past seven consecutive matches and 2. You can’t spell windmill without win. In contrast, Italy have been the surprise packet this WWC, having topped their group and making the quarter finals in their first hit out in 20 years.
The forecast 33-degree heat had plenty questioning the afternoon kick-off time. I mean, I can think of one team who would have been perfectly prepared for these conditions…if only…another time. At least Australia benefited from the earlier start by not having to wake up at a single digit time, in single digit temperatures to catch kick off.
As expected, the heat had both sides flagging quicker than the AR’s off-side flag in the group-stage games. Netherlands had all the possession, but their unchanged line-up looked fatigued. The Dutch back four didn’t appear in sync, as they dropped at mismatched times, allowing enough space for Italy to have a dip. Despite arguably Italy’s best player of the tournament, Girelli, not starting (and not making it onto the pitch at all despite no talk of injury- ooo, scandalous), Italy still found chances through the pairing of Bonansea and Bergamaschi in the 17th, but the shot went straight to the keeper.
Netherland’s front 3 were also uncharacteristically off, with van de Sanden’s weary legs appearing as heavy as clogs. Miedema attempted to make it on her own in the 29th by cutting the ball back on her left foot, but her final touch was sent straight into the hands of Giuliani.
The drinks break still couldn’t spur a breakthrough for either side in the opening 45 as Netherland’s 40th minute set piece from the edge of the box had the power of a windmill on a dead calm day and trickled past the wall the safety, whilst Italy’s 35th minute effort also missed the target.
The Dutch girls appeared to have cooled off with a Zooper Dooper and an icy tinny in the half-time break, as they came out hot in the next 45. There were no red lights in this district as the one-way traffic began with 4 shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes of the second. Two of the bigger chances came in the 52nd as Miedema found herself on the end of a beautiful cross across the face of goal, but her mistimed run was just short of getting a touch to seal the goal. Van de Donk also had the opportunity for glory 5 minutes later as she lined one up at the edge of the box to beat the keeper, but not the crossbar.
The final 20 continued to be as one-sided as the leaning tower of Pisa, as the Netherlands finally found their breakthrough. Spitse sent in a wonder cross off the back of a free kick following a Gama foul, with Miedema giving the shot the final touch it needed to beat Giuliani, despite getting a fingertip to it.
The final cooling break of the game meant the consumption of more hangover-curing Powerade and perhaps provided the final spurt for the Netherlands to seal it in the 80th as van der Gragt’s banging header, off yet another magical Spitse cross, skimmed Giuliani’s fingers to find the back of the net.
So, in the game of carrots vs. carbs, the Netherlands finished on top and will next meet Sweden in the semi-finals on their road to the big dance in France.
By Hayley Routley