Second half headers from Vivianne Miedema and Stefanie van der Gragt earned the Netherlands a 2-0 win over Italy in their quarter-final clash on Saturday at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The victory gave the European champions a first-ever place in the World Cup last four.
The Dutch, deserved victors in intense heat at the Stade du Hainaut, will face the winners of Saturday’s other quarter-final between Germany and Sweden, played later in Rennes.
Italy, who have never got beyond the last eight, had the better of the chances in the first half.
But the European champions stepped up their game after the break and both goals came from quality set-piece deliveries from Sherida Spitse.
Defending World Cup champions the U.S. will face England in the opening semi-final on Tuesday in Lyon with the second semi-final on Wednesday.
Netherland’s left-sided playmaker Lieke Martens was passed fit to play in spite of suffering a foot injury, picked up in goal celebrations in the previous round.
With the venue only a two hours drive away from the Dutch border, the 22,600 crowd was mostly bedecked in Orange in the bright sunshine.
But in spite of those boosts, the Dutch initially struggled to create openings against an Italian defence well marshalled by captain Sara Gama.
The Azzurre had the first real chance when Barbara Bonansea’s flick-on found Valentina Bergamaschi in the area.
But the midfielder’s lob was too easy for Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal.
Bergamaschi had another chance when, after a smart interchange won her space in the box, she scuffed her shot.
Moments later, from a promising position, Valentina Giacinti pulled her shot wide.
The Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman clearly took advantage of the break to address their problems and it was a very different approach after the interval.
The introduction of Lineth Beerensteyn for the out-of-sorts right-winger Shanice van de Sanden also helped the Dutch step up the tempo.
But when the breakthrough came in the 70th minute it was from a set-piece.
Spitse, from wide on the left, whipped in a fine, high cross and the towering Miedema timed her run and jump perfectly beating Laura Guiliani with a deft glancing header.
Ten minutes later the game was put beyond the Italians.
Spite, this time from the right, delivered a firm, flat cross which defender Van Der Gragt met with a firm header.
Italy had nothing left in the tank and it was cruise control from then on from the Dutch.
The winners will now fancy their chances of reaching the final for the first time.(Reuters/NAN)