In a Women’s World Cup that Europe has dominated, it seems only fitting that the continental champion should have a spot in the final.
But it didn’t come easily for the Netherlands, which ground out a 1-0 win over Sweden on Wednesday with Jackie Groenen’s goal in extra time sending the team to the final Sunday with the U.S.
“It’s unbelievable what happened here. We are in a final,” defender Stefanie van der Gragt said. “I think everybody dreams about the World Cup final. Now it’s happened.
“[Tonight] we have a party. And then tomorrow we talk about the U.S.”
The final will complete a remarkable four-year run for the Netherlands, which made its Women’s World Cup debut in 2015, then won the Euros in 2017.
It was only the fourth major tournament the team had ever played in.
Sunday will also mark the end of what has been a remarkable tournament for Europe. Five of the six groups were topped by UEFA teams with eight of the confederation’s nine entrants reaching the round of 16.
Seven of the eight quarterfinalists and three of the four semifinalists were also from Europe.
“It’s crazy because we don’t play [our] best football yet,” defender Jill Roord said. “But we keep winning.”
The Dutch won Wednesday by persevering through a dull, formless 90 minutes that left many in the crowd of 48,452 underwhelmed. The game was also physical, with three players needing medical attention on the field in the first half and Sweden’s Kosovare Asllani leaving on a stretcher late in extra time after taking a ball square in the face battling for a header.
But Groenen rewarded those who stuck around nine minutes into extra time.
A nice sequence had brought the ball deep into the Swedish end when Danielle van de Donk tried to force a ball into Vivianne Miedema, who stood with her back to goal about 25 yards out. Defender Linda Sembrant reached around Miedema and poked the ball away with her right foot, sending it directly in the path of the on-rushing Groenen. She took one touch, then skipped a low right-footed shot from just outside the penalty area by a diving Hedvig Lindahl and inside the far post for her first goal of the tournament.
Sembrant stopped at the top of the box and buried her face in her hands.
“The ball came to me really nicely,” Groenen said. “I saw a nice angle. We have been discussing for a couple of weeks that I should shoot more often.”
The goal broke up what had been a remarkable night for both keepers.
Late in the first half, Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal made a quick-reaction save to block a close-range shot from Lina Hurtig, one of two clutch stops she made in an opening 45 minutes the Swedes dominated.
“She was really incredible this whole tournament. She’s the hero for our team,” defender Dominique Bloodworth said of Van Veenendaal, who has conceded only three goals for a Dutch team that has yet to lose in this World Cup.
Lindahl kept her team in the game in the second half by getting a gloved hand up just in time to gently nudge a Miedema header off the crossbar. Groenen finally ended it though, putting the Dutch in position to add another chapter to what’s already been a remarkable story.
No matter what happens on the field, the final will be historic because it will be only the second World Cup title game in history to match two women coaches in American Jill Ellis and Sarina Wiegman of the Netherlands.
“It’s amazing to play in the final,” said Wiegman, who played at North Carolina for Anson Dorrance, the winning coach for the U.S. at the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. “It’s going to be so difficult, but it’s one match. Anything can happen.”