The Orange Lionesses have progressed to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in history. Sarina Wiegman’s team stole a late win against Japan after a last-gasp penalty, taking revenge for a 2-1 Round of 16 defeat to the same opponent four years ago. The Netherlands now face Italy in the quarter-final on Saturday.
Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman had put fully recovered Stefanie van de Gragt back in the starting line-up, at the expense of Anouk Dekker, who had made a sterling impression against Canada last Thursday. Her team got off to an excellent start, pushing Japan into defensive lapses. The Dutch offensive game bore fruit after a quarter of an hour when Lieke Martens scored the opener by tapping in a Sherida Spitse corner with her heel.
Japan reponded within minutes, with Yuika Sugasawa hitting the post with a powerful strike. A tactical game followed, with neither side taking any risks. Then, just before half-time came the equaliser out of the blue when Yui Hasegawa finished a quick team move around the box with a high strike into the net.
Japan more dangerous
In the second half, Japan were the better side, creating a flurry of chances in the final quarter of play, but each time finding Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal in excellent form. With just minutes to go before the final whistle, the Netherlands were awarded a penalty after their top scorer Vivianne Miedema’s shot hit the arm of Saki Kumagai on its way to the goal. Honduran referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the spot, giving Martens the chance to score her second goal and the decider of the evening and secure a ticket to the quarter-final. That match, against Italy, will be played in Valenciennes. Kick-off is at 15.00 CET.
“This was a hard-fought victory, so I’m very happy,” the Netherlands match-winner told Dutch media after the game. “We were better during the first period, Japan dominated the second. We were lucky to get that penalty. I immediately ask our captain Sherida Spitse if I could take it and she said yes. I’m happy to have scored a brace tonight, because my performance hasn’t been up to par. This was my response to the criticism I received. Of course, I know we needed that bit of luck, that's part of the game, but let’s not look back. We now need to recharge and recover, and focus on our next opponent, Italy.”