Netherlands, Italy stay alive in Women’s World Cup
RENNES, France — Lieke Martens scored her second goal on a late penalty kick to send the Netherlands into the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup for the first time with a 2-1 victory over 2015 finalist Japan on Tuesday.
The new handball law led to referee Melissa Borjas awarding the penalty because Saki Kumagai’s hand blocked Vivianne Miedema’s shot, even though there was no clear intention.
Martens scored from the spot to set up a meeting with Italy on Saturday.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. An audacious backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
Italy 2, China 0
Italy made its case to be considered a contender in the Women’s World Cup after a convincing 2-win over China on Tuesday night.
Coach Milena Bertolini believes Italy is set to play in its first quarterfinal since 1991 because her players are striving for a goal that goes beyond the final result.
“They have a mission. Their mission is to try and have the Italian public to discover and appreciate the women’s game,” Bertolini said. “This aspect helps you because it allows you to find that extra energy and motivation. I really believe this side has allowed the women’s game to break new ground back home.”
Italian viewers have had good reason to tune in. While the men’s team failed to qualify for last summer’s World Cup in Russia, the women are proving to be a revelation in France.
China had only allowed one goal in its three group stage games but the talented Italian attack broke down the vaunted defense.
Valentina Giacinti scored in the 15th minute. Aurora Galli’s long strike put the result beyond doubt four minutes after halftime at the stiflingly hot Stade de la Mosson.
Playing its first World Cup in 20 years, Italy had already surpassed expectations by winning its group ahead of Brazil and Australia before topping China with relative ease.
The Italians have advanced in style, deploying an attack with three forwards that hasn’t cost it at the back. Italy has scored nine goals in its three wins in the tournament, while the only two goals it has conceded have come on penalties.
Italy suffered a blow when striker Cristiana Girelli had to walk off the field with an apparent leg injury in the 39th.
She was replaced by Galli, who surprised Peng with a right-footed strike that went skimming over the turf and beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.
It was Galli’s third goal of the tournament, all as a substitute.