Four years ago, the United States made it to the World Cup final. In 2015, they faced a Japan side that never really gave the Americans much of a game at all, and the US won 5-2. The Netherlands will be hoping to give the US a much tougher test this time. Can they do it?
In order to get here, it’s fair to say the Dutch didn’t exactly thrill us as they defeated Sweden 1-0 in extra time. This was the kind of resolute performance that you tend to see late in tournaments, with the Netherlands looking as though tiredness might be something of a factor. Nonetheless, they toiled away and a Jackie Groenen strike from outside the box was good enough to win on the night.
The US, meanwhile, contested a much more entertaining game against England in which Christen Press and Alex Morgan goals in the first half were enough to see off the Lionesses, though there were questions of game management as England came close to equalising a few times in the second half. Both finalists were just winners in the semis, but that doesn’t mean either put in flawless performances.
In terms of the US selection, the biggest issue for Jill Ellis is Megan Rapinoe’s fitness. Rapinoe says she expects to be ready for the final, and will almost certainly start if this is the case, presumably replacing Press. This is tough on Press who was by Twelve’s model America’s outstanding performer against England, but Rapinoe’s usual importance to the side makes her likely to take precedent.
Rose Lavelle’s crucial work in breaking forward from midfield combined with Alex Morgan finding her shooting boots again against England means this attack could really be firing on all cylinders.
For the Netherlands, it seems likely they will continue the approach of looking to keep things tight. Of the team’s ten non-penalty goals so far, five have been from set pieces, and considering they are facing the strongest side in the tournament it’s unlikely the Dutch will suddenly try and play total football.
In that regard, centre-back Dominique Bloodworth may be an asset in terms of getting on the end of corners. She currently sits second in the Twelve model’s ranking of Dutch players, and with the Netherlands likely to be doing a lot of defending here, she could be very involved.
If the Dutch are to work the ball into dangerous areas, one imagines Lieke Martens will be involved as a dribbling threat coming from the left. Martens hasn’t quite had the impact in this tournament as she did in Euro 2017, but has still been lively, and if ever there was a game for her to deliver a defining performance, it would be here.
The betting markets have the USA as heavy favourites here and for good reason. It’s hard to imagine the Americans not dominating possession and asserting themselves as the stronger side. Granted, in previous knockout games, the team have struggled to control things after going ahead, and the Netherlands may well be looking to exploit this with set pieces late in the game. Don’t rule out an upset, but it looks like America will reign supreme in women’s football for another four years.