The Dutch go flying and dancing, after an absolutely tense encounter with the steely Swedes. In a match full of stellar defensive moments and jaw droppingly world class goalkeeping, the encounter had the same air to it as a small group of hungry people trying to politely decide who gets the last biscuit. Both sides willing to protect the goal to their last breath, neither particularly using their best techniques to snatch the sweets but in the end it’s a moment of weakness where the other pounces and snatches the game-winning biscuit.
There’s a couple things to talk about. Sweden blindsided me and stole my heart at some point in during the tournament, so I’m going to start with them. But the Netherlands were special, so we can’t forget them. There’s one other thing this match brought to my attention again, concussions. Dude they’re no good, we need to have a serious conversation in football about this issue and how we go about dealing with it when it occurs on the pitch.
I’m certain there’s a book in Swedish, held in the depths of some library in Sweden, one they know of, about how to sit in a block, stifle the opposition and play off the transition. I’m also certain the likes of Seger, Fischer and Lindal wrote chapters. The way Sweden made the Netherlands attack look almost boring is a monumental achievement. Their one defensive vulnerability all match was exposed by a shot placed better than a cuppa tea on a cold morning.
Perhaps a sign of a mature side is where communication of who goes to the ball, who stays to hold the line isn’t an issue. That’s what Sweden showed here against a side who have left many stranded in no-man’s land. The pure amount of bodies in front of goal deterred the Netherlands, while providing the necessary organisation and one on one defending to keep a Dutch side seeing a lot of possession at bay.
Working off the transition was always going to be how this side approached such a massive match. Defence first, hope something special happens in the final third next. Unfortunately the way they attacked this one was predictable, with the Netherlands having clearly done their pre-game homework. Forcing some stunning saves off van Veenendaal aside, Sweden couldn’t find the width necessary to really stretch the Netherlands defence. Nor were they able to find any variety to their forward movement, with defence breaking combinations in the final third dwindling as the match wore on.
THE DUTCH WAY
One thing is now certain, the Netherlands know when to show up. They’re a big game team and this was the biggest they’d been in so far. The contrast between the chaotic, dazzling approach to their attack to the intelligent, hearty approach in understanding their opponent in defence is like salt and vinegar chips. Just deliciously balanced in a way it probably shouldn’t be.
There’s no doubt the Netherlands had studied how Sweden transition quickly and made sure to counter that with a deeper lying defence. The defence as a whole were excellent in tracking back as a unit, as well as not jumping in on one on one challenges. It just reeks of experience. Whilst this might be the Netherlands second appearance at a World Cup tournament, they are the European Champions. The Netherlands played like European Champions today. Patient, the very essence of European football. Intelligent, the way the best of football from the continent is played.
In what was perhaps not their finest attacking performance, they found the magic needed to win. Denied on a good handful of occasions by the other spectacular goalkeeper on the pitch in Lindal, the Netherlands capitalised on the one clear cut opportunity and lapse in the Swedish defence with an absolutely clinical finish by Groenen.
Once van de Sanden hit the field, the Dutch found their width and were causing headaches for their otherwise composed opposition. Some might say van de Sanden should’ve started. If you could guarantee to have the winger at her best, there’s no argument she’s in everyone’s starting XI. However, saving her for the bench after a lacklustre performance against Italy, to then have her be the joker of the pack and turn the game on its head proved a game-winning masterstroke.
I was fully planning on gushing some more about goalkeepers and defence. That totally needs to be done too. But.
Dear Soccer World. We need to talk about head injuries.
I may be slightly more sensitive to this issue than most. My chances of playing even semi-competitive soccer is out the window because of how many head injuries I’ve had and my apparent magnetism to those types of injuries.
There was a head injury deep into extra time of extra time, when Asllani got a ball to the head. I’m struggling to find confirmation that she has a concussion, however the facts are a ball to the face, seeing a medic with a phone out near her eyes with the torch looking on and leaving the field in a neck brace on a stretcher. It doesn’t look good.
As a sport we don’t take head injuries seriously. It’s a non-contact sport sure. However head injuries do happen, we need to have protocols in place to ensure a player who is hurt in this way is treated as a priority, rather than seeing how quickly they can be taken off the field as the top priority. Other sports in Australia have concussion rules. Given, there’s different laws surrounding substitution and interchange. However that shouldn’t be the reason to not implement rules concussion rules.
Whilst Asllani was never going to be back on the field in that instance, there have been players who have played on with concussion. We as a sport need to address this properly and not just give them a pat on the back and “well done for carrying on”.
We need concussion rules. Concussion rules that protect players.
Anyway, there’s my rant about concussion and a little on the match. Now all eyes to the final that’ll be an absolute blockbuster between the Netherlands and the USA. Meanwhile my English heart will have one eye on Nice, where England and Sweden will battle it out for a consolation prize of a Bronze medal.