Holders Japan got through their group with 3 wins. A bad omen already for Brazil. The only other team to do so went out in their first knockout match. But the Netherlands as 3 rd behind Canada and China should spoil the party? First it has to be said that the Netherlands seemed on level with Canada and China in their group. Both of which are through to the quarterfinals. But with their better group ranking both had opponents which might not have had the quality of Japan. On the other hand Switzerland looked pretty on level with Japan as well with Canada and these two teams showed not huge differences in their respective 1:0 victories over the Swiss. The success and the experience of the last view years on the other hand are much in favor of the Japanese and this is a factor that might play a major role in such events.
What to expect
Japan is well known for being arguably the best organized team. Everything is well balanced and the teamwork is their biggest advantage. Athleticism on the other hand is steadily progressing in womens football and deficits there are more and more difficult to overcome. But from that point of view because the Netherlands are not a particularly strong and powerful team it should be one of the teams Japan could deal with. It will be interesting to see if it was only a bad day or might be a stereotype that the Netherlands looked better against the “power” teams New Zealand and Canada than they did against the “organization” team China which was their worst performance in the group by far. Japan on the other side hasnt found it easy so far to score loads of goals. But they have still not completely put all their cards on the table yet. Even if they will be dictating play and for sure completing more passes than the Netherlands it is always a danger to get caught by a piece of brilliant 1 on 1 by a dutch forward and concede a goal. A danger Japan is 100% aware of.
Keys to success
1. Keeping the dutch attack at bay
Clearly the trio Melis – Miedema – Martens up front is the top of the cake within their team supported by midfielder van de Donk. But you can see the Japanese defense organization being a nightmare for them as they love being able to take on their opponents in 1 on 1 situations. Something that the Japanese defense organization should be very good in preventing. But especially Martens showed a lot of desire and has obviously added the ability to her game to “power” through, what could be seen when she was the key initiator of the goal against Canada.
2. Keeping a clean sheet for the Netherlands
If Japan can take the lead it might be a game similar to the JAP-SWI game were Japan held the Swiss quite comfortably except from a few situations. Once Japan can stay compact with lesser need to attack in numbers the gaps can be closed and the space that is required urgently especially by Melis to make her speed advantage count can be narrowed by the Japanese side. And to keep a clean sheet will be significantly easier for the Netherlands as they themselves can stay compact and do not offer as much space as they sometimes did in their group games. The Japanese usually are more successful in finding and passing their way through small gaps rather than score on winning powerful duels.
Things to watch out for:
Where Melis and Martens had a good share of prolific attacks lounged towards goal so far in this tournament it is Miedema who could not yet shine the way some people expected. But what should you expect from a 18 year old girl who had hardly any break during the last 12 months leaving her home and familiar life not only for a new club but a new country and on top of that rising massive media interest as the upcoming star player to add to the stress.
Her performance slightly faded away already during the last months for her new club and understandably so. We will see if she is still able to turn on her usual sparkle or if she again is more kind of trying to “fight” her way into the game. Still a player with exceptional striking qualities who can make that count every second her steps simply seem to be a decisive tenth of a second or so slower than when she is on top of her game. If she gets it going the Netherlands stand a good chance. If not – Melis and Martens alone are maybe not good enough to break through the Japanese defense.