Open and even
The game started in a friendly and open manner, Sweden the team pushing first but the team didn’t look overly comfortable or smooth on the offensive and it was easy enough for the likes of Kelly Zeeman and Sheila van den Bulk to cut out. The Dutch better at out-muscling the Swedish front line, the delivery not enough to slice the Oranje open.
For their part, Holland were forced to counter-attack and arguably had the first chance as Lineth Beerensteyn broke beyond the back line but a poor first touch took the ball away from her and into Hedvig Lindahl’s grateful grasp. The idea of a Dutch all-out attack held little water with the Swedes experts at dropping and letting very little past their staunch banks.
Sweden finally had a strong half-chance 20 minutes into the match when Kosovare Asllani ran onto a drifting ball to keep it alive, with Lotta Schelin available at the back post, Pauline Hammarlund at the near and Hanna Folkesson arriving centrally. Opting to take the ball right to the by-line, Asllani sent the cross low and short, Hammarlund’s first time shot a terrible connection that skewed high and wide. Having started strongly, the Dutch defence started to bend when pushed, a good Swedish chance just one Oranje error away, the ball over the top for Schelin to chase always an option.
Though looking weaker at the back, Holland were looking brighter in attack, able to get more bodies forward, the midfield was crowding in their favour and having already shown good options with Renate Jansen and Beerensteyn out wide the Netherlands had more and more options opening up.
Sari van Veenendaal was called into action to make the first save of the game on the half hour, once more it was ball that drifted beyond a Dutch full-back. Jonna Andersson kept the ball alive well but Asllani’s header lacked punch and the catch was an easy one for the Arsenal ‘keeper.
A half with few chances, Schelin would have been kicking herself after failing to hit the target five minutes before the break, able to break away from her marker and carry the ball into the danger-zone. The attempted lay-off to Hammarlund, caught under the boot of van den Bulk, came right back to her as she took the ball further towards goal, her effort – angled towards the top corner – able to clear the top of the bar with ease. Shot selection the biggest problem for the attacker who had wanted to be selfless, van Veenendaal’s far post beckoned as she took aim for the top near.
Wholesale changes for Holland left the Oranje without a healthy number of their more noteworthy players, whether imposed by injury, the tournament schedule, or just by managerial design, the Dutch were missing their X factor and it showed. Although consistently carrying a threat out wide there was little being offered centrally, Jackie Groenen forced to drop into more of a defensive midfield role there was little spark to the visitors during the first-half. On the other side of the pitch the Swedes didn’t look hugely cohesive in attack either, more like a counter-attacking team given the lion’s share of possession and not knowing how to open their opposition up.
Holland turn the heat up
Having made three attack-minded substitutions at half-time it was of little surprise to see Netherlands starting to dominate and force the issue, the Dutch very much the team on top at the start of the second-half. Good work from Vivianne Miedema opened up the chance for Beerensteyn but the latter could only find the upright with her shot, Lindahl well beaten. Consistently first to the ball, Holland were making the experienced Swedish defence look like strangers, orange scythed throw yellow but still the final ball just wasn’t there.
The dynamics of the two teams had changed at the break and it was Sweden who were using the width of the pitch well in the second-half, Andersson one of the brighter in yellow, her hard work easily going unnoticed. From one full back to the other as Hanne Gråhns produced the best chance of the second-half, her cross-cum-shot enough to force a save from van Veenendaal as it looked to dip just under the bar.
The Dutch made another round of substitutions, both centre-backs recycled as the game began to fragment, the pendulum listing back in Sweden’s favour though those in yellow were unable to make anything out of their luck.
With more and more gaps opening in the Swedish defence, Lieke Martens was having plenty of joy slipping behind unnoticed. Another ball for her to chase had Lindahl tearing out of her box to clear, needing three bites of the cherry, the Chelsea number one finally put the ball behind, persistency paying off. But again the Dutch look to have taken the edge in the game, orange overrunning yellow once more, another shot from Beerensteyn yet was another that failed to hit the target – the attacker with no excuse for her miss at point-black range.
The deadlock finally broken with less than ten minutes left after Beerensteyn had been brought down as she broke into the box, the referee with no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Mandy van den Berg, who hadn’t long been on, dispatched her penalty cleanly into the bottom corner, Lindahl guessing correctly but her outstretched glove unable to reach the perfectly placed ball. The wind still blowing the way of the Dutch as they looked to add a second, Sweden left to rue Stina Blackstenius’s sloppy finish moments before conceding the penalty.
There was still time for chances for both before the end of the match but as had been the pattern, it just wasn’t going to happen from open play for either.
The win was well taken by Holland who boasted dominance for longer than their opposition, the penalty non-debatable but perfectly struck, to nestle inside of the post. Sweden sloppy and disjoined across the pitch, the substitutions though like-for-like weren’t necessarily the right ones, players not at the races left on the pitch in pursuit of more attacking omfph - conversely the chances made by Sarina Wiegman were exactly what Holland needed.