Sports Monks

USA vs Netherlands: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Final – Pre Match Preview and Analysis

USA-vs-Netherlands

The Women’s FIFA World Cup 2019 draws to an end on Sunday, 7th of July. The defending champions – The USA – face the Netherlands in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium, also known as the Groupama Stadium or the Stade de Lyon. The United States striker Alex Morgan will feature in her 3rd successive World Cup Final, this time as the captain. The neutral hopes that this final will be a more even affair than the corresponding fixture in the last world cup, wherein the United States had blown away then-holders Japan within the first half an hour.

Road to the Final

The United States Women’s National Team (Referred to as USWNT hereon) has dominated the headlines at every step along its world cup journey. From their fight for equal wage as the men’s national team, to the debate about sportsmanship that they sparked when they thrashed Thailand 13-0 in their opening game, to individual yet scrutinised spotlight for Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan for their celebrations in the quarter and semi-final victories against France and England respectively, it’s fair to say that they have had the lion’s share of media attention, whether welcome or otherwise.

In fairness, that hasn’t stopped them from beating everyone who has stepped in their way, sweeping the group stages clean with a +18 goal difference (without conceding a single goal), as well as a ground out 2-1 victories against each of their knockout stage European rivals, in Spain, France, and England.

The Netherlands has adopted the mantra of efficiency over the explosion. They emerged from the group stages having played 3 and won 3, but none by a margin of over 2 goals. They then knocked out Japan (2-1), Italy (2-0) and Sweden (1-0) in the round of 16, quarters and semi-final respectively, with all 3 games featuring late goals.

Injury News

USWNT: Megan Rapinoe, the star of the quarter-final victory against France, missed out on the semis against England due to a hamstring injury. While the star has maintained that she is fit enough to feature and fight for the golden boot title (She’s a goal short of teammate Alex Morgan), hamstring injuries have historically taken longer than the span of a few days to heal. Moreover, her replacement against England, Christen Press, put in a superb performance in the semis, scoring the opener and being defensively resolute. Rapione’s inclusion or exclusion is the main only injury concern for the USWNT.

The Netherlands: The Netherlands unfortunately do not have squad depth comparable to the United States, and the current worldview that the 2 best teams in women’s football at the moment are the United States starting XI and the United States bench only makes you wonder the type of match one might witness with FIFA Best Women’s Player 2017 Lieke Martens a doubt for the final. Owing to the lack of depth, she was forced to start supporting a toe injury against Sweden in the semi-final but was withdrawn injured at half time. Given the stature of the game on Sunday, the prize at stake and her importance to the side, I personally believe she will start but hope it doesn’t aggravate any problems. Elsewhere, captain and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal suffered a scare against Sweden after her hand was inadvertently trodden on. She completed the match after receiving attention and is likely to be fully fit for the final.

Analysis

The USWNT supreme quality throughout their starting XI and their bench, and their main attacking threat come down their right. Tobin Health and Rose Lavelle, in particular, are extremely skilled at carrying the ball and getting up the pitch. Against England, the US showed utter domination in the first 10 minutes, with a lot of their attacks coming down the right. Cutting inside seems to be the favoured move, and crossing the second choice. Trickery too has been on the cards, but something I’ve noticed is that the front line generally chooses to shoot from an angle over finding someone to square the ball to. Ergo, Netherlands will have to be quick to close down space on the edge of the box, as well as inside it.

As good as they are going forward, the right side remains a defensive vulnerability for the US. England’s equalising goal came after Beth Meed found herself unmarked, and put in a sumptuous cross for Ellen White to tap home safely. Later in the game, White scored again, drifting from the left onto a brilliant pass from Jill Scott, but was ruled marginally offside. And towards the closing stages, Nikita Parris was put in behind from the left side, and her pass across to Ellen White in the centre led to an England penalty. Those were England’s 3 most threatening chances, and they all came down the US’s right.

In worrying news for Netherlands, their left side of defence has been overcommitting against onrushing attackers. A simple 1-2 routine with a slightly withdrawn Alex Morgan could spell trouble for them, and they will need to be alert to avoid rushing out of position. To complement that, the defensive midfielders will have their work cut out for them, either following a man marking system or sitting a little deeper.

The Netherlands has been a mixed bag from set pieces so far in the world cup. They scored 2 headers from free kicks against Italy in the quarters and scored from a corner against Japan, but were on the verge of conceding 2 from corners against Sweden, with Van Veenendaal’s heroics saving them on both occasions. Headers and set pieces have proven to be a strong suit for the United States too, with both goals against England coming from free headers following exceptionally placed crosses. It may eventually boil down to who can put in the better crosses and who can meet them clinically enough, in which case Megan Rapinoe’s importance increases.

All in all, it has been a hugely successful World Cup, and the knockout stages, in particular, have laid a good argument for the development of an investment into women’s football as a whole. While the USWNT remain strong favourites, the reigning European champions will put up more than just a fight. Should Martens return, the right flank of the pitch (From US’s perspective) may just become the region where the final will be won and lost. May the best team win!

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