After slow-but-steady progress in the previous two FIFA Women’s World Cups, the Netherlands are in their first-ever final. Standing in their way are the defending champions, the United States, who have won the tournament more than any other team.
This promises to be a well-balanced and enticing final. Both sides have significant strengths but a couple of tactical tweaks may define Sunday’s game when it’s all said and done.
Here are three keys to victory ahead of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final.
Weathering early American pressure
Fast starts have become a theme for the United States. The World Cup holders have scored in the opening 12 minutes in all of their matches so far.
That’s why it’s crucial that Holland weathers the early storm. They have the tactical setup to execute this and the results have backed up the approach. The Netherlands conceded just 0.5 expected goals in each of the last two matches versus Italy and Sweden, so they could frustrate the U.S.
xG map for Sweden – Netherlands
this was a game that happened, which I watched with my eyes pic.twitter.com/LkxWSGFE8i
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) July 3, 2019
xG map for Italy – Netherlands
the Dutch took control of the match in the second half and eventually those set play chances were the difference pic.twitter.com/gwV2z47fIc
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 29, 2019
Holland’s defensive shape is also quite disciplined and allows for quick counter-attacks as soon as they recover possession, which will be imperative on Sunday.
The American long ball
Defending the long ball sounds simple but it’s been nearly impossible for the opposition when facing the United States at the World Cup so far.
Considering the Dutch’s defensive solidity, this may come in handy for the U.S. on Sunday. Holland may not press the USA high up the pitch when they have possession – which England did – but, if the Americans recover possession off a Netherlands counter-attack, playing more directly may be helpful.
If this occurs, the Dutch back line cannot be caught ball-watching on crosses. England’s communication broke down during Christen Press’ opening goal in the semifinals, and surely Holland won’t want to repeat that trend in the final.
The return of Megan Rapinoe
U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe missed the semifinal versus England due to a minor hamstring injury. As a precaution, head coach Jill Ellis listed Rapinoe as a substitute but she did not see the pitch.
Rapinoe suffered the injury late in the quarterfinal victory over France but she’s confident she will be fit for the final.
Assuming she starts, that will be massive for the U.S. offensively. Even though Press was excellent in the semifinals, Rapinoe is the driving force for the United States. The system is tailored for her to score.
Sure, Press tracks back more often, but if she’s fit Rapinoe has to be in the starting 11. The most important player to the system can’t be dropped for a final unless it’s absolutely necessary.
On the bright side for Ellis, she can bring on Press later in the game if she feels like her team needs more protection on the flanks. That’s what strength in depth provides a coach, so Ellis would be smart to utilize it.