Soccer / Women's World Cup

Netherlands edges Sweden, will face U.S. in final

AP

When Jackie Groenen received the ball, even though she was outside the penalty area, the Dutch midfielder knew she had to seize her opening.

It was 99 minutes into a grueling Women’s World Cup semifinal, and neither the Netherlands nor Sweden was finding a clear path to the goal Wednesday night.

“I saw a nice angle,” Groenen said. “We’ve been discussing this for a couple of weeks now that I need to take shots more often. The ball just came really nicely, and I thought, ‘Let’s do this.’ “

A slick passing sequence ended with Groenen driving a shot past goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. A first shot on target in France produced her first goal of the tournament.

“I’m not much of a scorer,” she said. “But I’m very happy today I got to score.”

It sent the Netherlands into its first Women’s World Cup final, where the Dutch will face the United States on Sunday, back in the Stade de Lyon.

Two years after the Dutch won their first major trophy — the European Championship — Groenen is already dreaming of a first world title in only their second attempt.

“It kind of went through my mind as soon as I got off the pitch,” she said. “The Americans are massive, they have massive players. They are the biggest team in the world but I can’t wait to play.”

Progress for the Dutch has been rapid after reaching the round of 16 during their World Cup debut four years ago.

“The potential for the Netherlands has been there for a long time,” Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said. “Since 2007, when the Eredivisie started and players got better facilities and could train more, the players developed so much that they improved. And then when you’re at big tournaments, like European Championships and World Cups, they develop even more. They made transfers to big clubs in Europe.”

Players like Groenen, who became the first overseas signing for Manchester United after the recently formed women’s team was promoted to England’s Super League in May.

Before she pulls on a red jersey, Groenen could become a world champion in orange by beating the defending champions.

The finalists have something in common: female coaches. With Jill Ellis coaching the U.S. and Wiegman in charge of the Netherlands, the run of three finals featuring a male coach comes to an end.

“It’s important that women have the opportunity to develop as players, as coaches and in society,” Wiegman said.