European clubs continue to flex their power
The US has defeated two of Europe’s best in the Women’s World Cup. It will need to get past three more Euro teams to defend its title.
The field has been narrowed to seven Old World countries and the US going into the quarterfinals, starting Thursday. The Round of 16 concluded with Italy blanking China, 2-0, in Montpellier, and the Netherlands edging Japan, 2-1, in Rennes on Tuesday, confirming the rise of Europe and the demise of Asian powers in women’s soccer.
Italy and the Netherlands have advanced past the second round for the first time. This is the first WWC that no Asian team has made it to the quarters.
The path to the final for the US, victorious over Sweden in group play and Spain in the Round of 16, continues through France in Paris on Friday. The winner gets England or Norway in the semifinals on July 2. Germany, set to play Sweden in Rennes on Saturday, is favored to advance to the final from the opposing bracket. But Italy and Netherlands, opponents in Valenciennes on Saturday, are showing they can provide a challenge.
■ Italy put China out of its misery, attacking from the opening whistle. Valentina Giacinti opened the scoring in the 15th minute and substitute Aurora Galli added a 49th-minute goal. Meanwhile, the Chinese stuck to their defensive mind-set, departing the tournament having scored one goal and seldom looking joyful, optimistic, or tactically sound.
■ The Azzurre knew China would be sitting back (no surprise — the Chinese had scored a goal and allowed a goal in three group games), so they went forward in numbers. After falling behind, China abandoned its anti-soccer approach, but coach Jia Xiuquan was a step behind. Italy coach Milena Bertolini replaced leading scorer Cristiane Girelli with Galli, who combined with Manuela Giugliano to disrupt the Chinese midfield. The Italians started the second half with a high press, and China’s inability to play out of it led to the second goal, Galli driving in a low, 25-yard shot. The Chinese then tried to kick their offense into gear, but it was too late. Catenaccio against Italian teams usually doesn’t work at any level, especially if you don’t have a polished counterattack to go with it.
■ Japan finally got into gear late in the opening half against the Netherlands. Lieke Martens poked in a goal off a corner kick (11th minute) and converted a penalty (88th) for the Dutch. Yui Hasegawa equalized, chipping on-rushing goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal in the 43rd minute. Questions were raised about Japan’s strategy, as Hasegawa was benched in the first round, then returned to combine effectively with former Boston Breaker left back Aya Sameshima in this match. By the second half, Japan’s possession game seemed to be wearing down the Dutch, but Sherida Spitse earned a penalty with a shot off Saki Kumagai that was ruled a handball violation.
■ Japan coach Asako Takakura found an effective combination, adding the skill of Hasegawa to the mix. It might have been too late for the Nadashiko, who seemed less concerned with the WWC than with planning ahead for the 2020 Olympics. Japan’s passing game might not work as well without 5-foot-7-inch sweeper keeper Ayaka Yamashita. After winning in 2011 and finishing second in 2015, Japan abandoned plans to go with 6-1½ goalkeeper Erina Yamane (now with Real Betis), who was not included on the roster this year. The Dutch might have turned this match into a rout if not for Yamashita advancing out of the penalty area to stop several advances.