A superb month of Women’s World Cup action culminated overnight in the France 2019 World Cup Final, played at the Stade de Lyon. The USA came into the game as favourites, chasing their fourth title after an extra day of rest compared to their opponents. On the other hand, the Netherlands were making their first World Cup Final appearance in only their second FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament.

A brave Dutch side pushed their opponents hard until the 61st minute when Megan Rapinoe converted a penalty for the USA. After that the Americans were relentless, powering to a 2-0 victory and claiming the mantle as World Champions.

 

USA V NETHERLANDS

Megan Rapinoe returned to the US forward line in place of Christen Press, while Rose Lavelle was pronounced fit to start. The other notable change saw Sam Mewis edge out Lindsay Horan in a statement of midfield attacking intent.

For the Dutch, Anouk Dekker came into central defence for Merel van Dongen, with Lineth Beerensteyn starting in attack at the expense of Shanice van de Sanden. Tactically they switched their left and right backs to enable Dominique Bloodworth to man-mark Tobin Heath, and played Beerensteyn up top in attack with Vivianne Miedema just in behind.

The Netherlands’ first challenge was to negotiate the crucial first quarter hour and withstand the deliberate tactic of early American intensity, so fruitful for the US in this tournament. Negotiate it they did, with the US blunted by the physical approach of the Dutch, who were looking to absorb pressure and play on the counterattack.

The referee was to lose patience with Dutch physicality on 10 minutes, brandishing a yellow card at Sherida Spitse.

A US corner in the 27th minute saw Julie Ertz fire a powerful volley at Sari van Veenendaal in the Dutch goal, but the goalkeeper was able to parry it away.

The 38th minute saw attempts on the Dutch goal first by Mewis (a header blocked by the keeper) and then Alex Morgan, toeing the ball towards goal after Rapinoe centred the ball, but again van Veenendaal was up to the task.

Highlighting this spell of American dominance, Morgan unleashed a drive with her left foot from outside the penalty box in the 40th minute, however this too was saved by the Dutch keeper. US defender Abby Dahlkemper received a yellow card a minute later for a trip on Beerensteyn.

USA’s Kelley O’Hara came off the worse for wear after a head clash with Lieke Martens just before half time. She was replaced in the break by Ali Krieger, but not before first Miedema and then Spitse were involved in attacking threats, neither of which troubled US keeper Alyssa Naeher. The teams went into the break at 0-0.

USA defender Becky Sauerbrunn also received treatment for a head clash in the 54th minute, leaving the field for a few minutes. She was able to rejoin the game, with her side none the worse for having gone a player down for the time it took to treat her.

Five minutes later outstanding Dutch defender Stefanie Van der Gragt conceded a penalty for a raised boot in a challenge with Alex Morgan, receiving a yellow card in the process. A corner was initially awarded, however VAR intervened and after reviewing the footage, the referee blew the whistle for the penalty. Rapinoe coolly slotted the spot kick in the 61st minute, wrong-footing the Dutch keeper, and in the process becoming the oldest player (at 34 years of age) to score in a Women’s World Cup Final.

A brilliant run by Miedema on 65 minutes petered out when she was unable to beat a succession of US defenders in the box. Moments later, US midfield revelation Rose Lavelle made it a tournament to remember by scoring with a low left footed drive to the left of the keeper, giving her team a two goal advantage.

With a two goal cushion and the wind in their sails, the Americans dominated the final 20 minutes of play. Dutch substitutions in the 71st minute (Jill Roord for Lieke Martens) and 73rd minute (van de Sanden for Dekker) had little impact.

Indeed, Naeher was not called upon to save a shot until the last 15 minutes of the game. This underlined the fact that while they were tactically and physically up for much of the contest, in the end the Dutch were overrun by a well oiled American machine with the luxury of superior squad depth. US fresh legs in this time took the form of Rapinoe making way for Christen Press, and Heath for Carli Lloyd in the latter’s World Cup farewell appearance.

The final whistle blew after five minutes of stoppage time, and the American celebrations began. With the trophy held aloft we learnt that Megan Rapinoe was awarded both the tournament’s Golden Ball (best player) and Golden Boot (highest goal scorer) prizes. Sari van Veenendaal was awarded the Golden Glove, and Germany’s Giulia Gwinn received the Young Player Award.

USA 2 (Rapinoe 61′, Lavelle 69′)

Netherlands 0

 

And so ends the France 2019 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a magnificent tournament that will be remembered for unprecedented viewer numbers and coverage; the rise of European nations and players on the international stage; some excellent goalkeeping; VAR controversies; and a likely World Cup farewell to several iconic players including Marta, Christine Sinclair, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Matilda Lisa De Vanna among others.

The unparalleled interest in this edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup has also highlighted disparities in the growth and funding of women’s football, not to mention player reimbursement. Perhaps the real legacy of France 2019 will be as a turning point in these issues for the betterment of all, but only time will tell.