The last four of the 2019 World Cup are confirmed, and with a pair of matches set to determine the two sides to clash in the crown jewel of women’s international football, here’s a reason each team will – and won’t – reach the final in Lyon.
Why the U.S. will reach the final
The Americans are the best team in the tournament, full stop. Jill Ellis’ charges proved against France that they can withstand the pressure of a proven front-three while hitting on the counter. Even when conceding 60 percent of possession, the U.S. created better chances, hitting the target eight times on 10 tries to France’s five in 20.
Alex Morgan is hobbled, Tobin Heath’s goal-scoring chances have been scant (bar the Thailand drubbing), and, strangely, that matters little as Megan Rapinoe has grown into the tournament with successive two-goal games. The U.S. has now won 10 World Cup matches on the spin to match Norway’s record, and will be favored to write its own footnote versus England.
Why the U.S. won’t reach the final
Ellis’ squad selection. We’re clutching at straws, but it’s tough to find reasons for concern when it comes to the near-infallible USWNT. That said, a few of Ellis’ personnel decisions have left onlookers confused – leaving the best ball-hogging midfielder Lindsey Horan out of the starting XI against France being chief among them.
Julie Ertz’s lofty No. 6 tutorial helped alleviate some of the pressure. Same can’t be said for the gaffer’s late subs. Alex Morgan played the entire match with a limp and attacker Carli Lloyd’s introduction for midfielder Samantha Mewis seconds after Wendie Renard cut the lead in half was bewildering.
Why England will reach the final
The Lionesses can exploit the States’ lack of speed at the back. Save for repurposed full-back Crystal Dunn, USWNT’s back-four can get caught flat-footed, meaning England could benefit from some direct play aimed at versatile Manchester City-bound striker Ellen White. An ample central target, White’s ability to hold the ball and turn swiftly is suited well for direct service.
The U.S. is happy to sit back and task a midfield three with defensive duties or slot Ertz in as part of three central defenders as it navigates buildups with eight behind the ball. If England opts for a Route 1 approach, it could bother a conservative style from the U.S. that nearly backfired late in the win over France.
Why England won’t reach the final
England’s defense permitted Norway’s talented wingers to circumvent the backline with an alarming frequency, and the U.S. is clinical in the 18-yard box. With Rapinoe hitting her stride and Morgan and Heath lying in wait, it’s unlikely Ellis’ lot will fluff the chances Norway and Cameroon failed to convert.
Phil Neville’s blessed with some selection conundrums: Toni Duggan or Beth Mead on the left, and Alex Greenwood at left-back or Demi Stokes. However, the manager likely wishes he had an adequate deputy for center-back Millie Bright, who the U.S. could exploit rather than her capable cohort Steph Houghton.
Why the Netherlands will reach the final
Oranje’s fruitful attack is menacing. Save for a group stage clash with the U.S. buoyed by certain knockout progression, Sweden has largely avoided potent attacks. No such luck against the Dutch, who boast one of the tournament’s best strikers in Vivianne Miedema. The Netherlands can also score in any number of ways, not the least of which is a direct route when needed.
Shanice van de Sanden routinely beats her left-back marker in one-on-one situations, Sherida Spitse’s free-kick deliveries have been precise, and creative fulcrum Danielle van de Donk’s penchant for dangerous central runs is a threat. These factors, paired with Miedema’s commanding form, and Lieke Martens’ match-winning tendencies are the qualities of a World Cup finalist.
Why the Netherlands won’t reach the final
The current European championship holder is quite susceptible at the back, similar to many sides in the tournament. It doesn’t help that Sarina Wiegman’s back-four look as though they’re running in sand with clogs on their feet. A clinical Cameroon would have gotten more than a goal with the over-the-top approach.
A lack of pace at the back doesn’t only hamper the Netherlands’ chances on the counter, but – as seen during the win over Canada with Christine Sinclair’s far-post tap-in from a dissecting Nichelle Prince cross – center-backs Dominique Bloodworth, Anouk Dekker, and Stefanie van der Gragt are sluggish.
Why Sweden will reach the final
The Swedes are the team of destiny. The Scandinavian side is growing into the tournament with increasingly improved performances. This matchup with the Netherlands is a clash of two sides that have looked decent in attack but poor at the back on occasion. Anything can happen.
In terms of individuals, central creative fulcrum Kosovare Asllani is capable of unlocking any defense with a perfectly weighted pass and attacker Sofia Jakobsson is a menacing runner who’s been a nightmare for defenders. Like her team, Saturday’s match-winner Stina Blackstenius is also rounding into form as the first Swede to score in consecutive World Cup games since 1991.
Why Sweden won’t reach the final
Coach Peter Gerhardsson’s willingness to concede possession could be problematic against a Dutch team with three noteworthy attackers and a pair of midfielders capable of line-busting passes in Van de Donk and Spitse. Also, Miedema is a problem.
The Netherlands has profited from frequent attacks by turning the screw after the break. Eight of the 10 goals in France have come following the interval – from seven different sources – and the fact that 2017 Player of the Year Martens has yet to reach her zenith should be a worry.