By Christian Radnedge
LYON, France (Reuters) – A long-range strike from Jackie Groenen sent European Champions the Netherlands into their first women’s World Cup final as they edged Sweden 1-0 after extra time in their semi-final on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old midfielder scored in the 99th minute when she collected a deflected pass outside the box and struck it expertly into the bottom right corner of the goal to put the Dutch into Sunday’s final against holders the United States.
The game marked the first time a women’s World Cup semi-final had gone to extra time and it proved a tight contest between the two sides, who last met in the quarter-finals of Euro 2017 when the Dutch won 2-0 before going on to win the competition.
The match build-up had focused on the talented Netherlands forwards such as all-time top scorer Vivianne Miedema (60 goals) and the pacy attack of 2016 Olympic silver medallists Sweden, featuring Stina Blackstenius who had scored the winner against Germany in the previous round.
However, it was the goalkeepers who found themselves the busiest players throughout the regulation 90 minutes.
Sweden were the brighter side in the first half but could not find a way past Netherlands stopper Sari van Veenendaal.
The captain routinely tipped over dangerous inswinging corners and instinctively saved with her foot a close-range toe poke from Lina Hurtig shortly before halftime.
The match opened up a bit more in the second half. Sweden defender Nilla Fischer hit the post 10 minutes after the restart and Miedema had her header tipped on to the bar by the fingertips of Hedvig Lindahl.
The 36-year-old keeper, who most recently played for Chelsea in England, was equal to the threat of a Dutch side who grew in confidence, particularly with the introduction of Shanice van den Sanden who flew down the right wing.
Lindahl tipped over a fierce strike from the pink-haired Van den Sanden in second-half stoppage time. However, her resistance was finally broken by an excellent quickfire strike from Groenen in the first period of extra time.
The midfielder, who will feature for Manchester United in England’s top flight next season, chose the perfect time to register her first shot on target and first goal of the tournament.
Despite playing in only their second World Cup, the Netherlands keep their incredible journey going with a final date against the record three-time world champions on Sunday.
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Clare Fallon)