Spain lost out narrowly to the USWNT earlier today and in another similar clash between an established powerhouse and a fast-rising team, the Netherlands take on Japan. At this exact stage of the 2015 World Cup, Japan beat the Netherlands 2-1 and went on to reach their second consecutive final. The Dutch had qualified for that knockout round as one of the four best third-placed teams; they set up this 2019 re-match – a clear evidence of their improvement– by topping their group through an emphatic win. Former world champions Japan are building a team for the future, while the reigning European champions just like the Spanish side are looking to graduate from their status as dark horses at the biggest stage, to the level of genuine contenders.
Holland are making only their second appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals and knocking out Japan this early would be considered quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that the Netherlands are yet to prove themselves at this level at the World Cup. Expectations and aspirations have changed considerably since their debut four years ago and it does help that they have useful experience in a knockout environment: they won every knockout fixture by multiple goals at the 2017 European Championship on the way to lifting the trophy.
Netherlands made light work of emerging from their group in pole position, as they beat New Zealand, Cameroon and Canada without ever really needing to get out of second gear. In contrast, Japan stuttered their way through Group D. Such is the magnitude of the contrasting fortunes these teams have had since their meeting four years ago; in their most recent encounter in 2018, Netherlands thrashed Japan by six goals to two.
The Netherlands won Group E with a 100% winning record from their three games against New Zealand, Cameroon and Canada to make it through to the Round of 16 and having scored the first goal in all three of their group matches, they haven’t been behind at any point in the tournament so far. Japan are likely to provide a more sterner test though. The Dutch attack runs through Vivianne Miedema, their new all-time top scorer who has had a direct hand in 43% of her team’s total shots at the tournament so far, and Daniellë van de Donk orchestrating the play from midfield. Both will be crucial to the coach Sarina Wiegman’s plans.
Japan qualified for the Round of 16 after finishing in second place in Group D as England topped their group and they know they will have to produce much more attacking threat if they are to reach the quarter-finals. The only goals they managed to score in the group (with one of those from the spot) stage were the two against Scotland in their second match of the tournament having failed to find the net against either Argentina or England. Their technical, possession-heavy football has been sorely let down by the final ball up front.
The Netherlands are truly a much-improved side since then having won the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship and have been in better form than Japan so far during the 2019 World Cup. Japan have struggled in attack during the tournament and it is likely to be this that will cost them as the Netherlands’ superiority in front of goal could be the deciding factor in this match. In the other match of the day, Italy take on China in another encounter to look forward to.
Photo Credit: BBC