France v Netherlands preview: Les Bleues to reach first Euro semi-final by dumping holders in extra time
There’s a heavyweight clash in store for the final quarter-final of Euro 2022 tonight, kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium in Rotherham. Although it’s likely to be a close affair, France should progress to face a tricky semi-final tie with Germany, writes Rachel Roberts.Embed from Getty Images
Les Bleues made a blistering start to the tournament, thrashing Italy 5-1, but this confidence was quelled by shaky performances against Belgium and Iceland. The narrow 2-1 win over the Red Flames was enough to secure qualification for the quarter-finals, but the 1-1 draw with Iceland raised more questions rather than settling nerves back home, according to French publication L’Equipe.
So although they ultimately finished comfortably at the top of Group D, there remains some hesitancy around France externally. The Netherlands will be their toughest test so far, and Les Bleues have never reached the semi-finals before. Within the camp however, there is plenty of confidence, as midfielder Clara Mateo told Uefa.com: “We’ve used all three matches to gain experience and to eliminate the little mistakes we’ve made in each one. We are going to draw on these three matches to improve our performances and build our momentum throughout the competition.”Embed from Getty Images
The Oranje finished runners-up to Sweden in Group C on goal difference. A 1-1 draw with the Swedes was followed by a tense 3-2 win over Portugal. Then came the Switzerland tie, a 4-1 victory which on paper sounds dominant, but the Dutch didn’t take the lead until the 84th minute. Games like this, paired with the challenge of star striker Vivianne Miedema’s Covid isolation, resulted in the press back home describing this as one of the craziest group stages ever.
If they are to continue the defence of their European crown, the Dutch will need to put the challenges of the group stages behind them and deliver a quality performance not yet seen to keep the French at bay. Manager Mark Parsons admitted: “We’re still waiting for that performance where we all say: we got to a level that gives us goosebumps. The last six months have been what it was. We didn’t come in on fire, like France, Sweden or England. We had to grow, taking blows as they come.”Embed from Getty Images
Key battle: Miedema v Renard
The Netherlands’ outright greatest goalscorer verses one of the top defenders in the game is an unmissable contest. Miedema’s tournament has so far been stunted by a Covid infection, but if she is fit enough to play she is sure to be an influential figure in this tie. Standing in her way will be captain Wendie Renard, who with 14 French league titles and eight Champions Leagues to her name, is one of the most decorated players in women’s football. Whoever dominates this battle between the best will have a huge influence on the outcome of this fixture.
Manager Corinne Diacre has no fresh concerns to add to the knee injury which forced off Marie-Antoinette Katoto against Belgium.
Dutch forward Lieke Martens is out for the tournament after sustaining a foot injury against Switzerland, but boss Parsons will otherwise be relieved that star player Miedema has recovered from Covid and has been back in training this week.
Last five results (all competitions)
France: WWWWD Netherlands: WWDWW
France wins: 2 Netherlands wins: 2 Draws: 3
22/02/2022: France 3 Netherlands 1 (Tournoi de France)
10/03/2020: France 3 Netherlands 3 (Tournoi de France)
Game changer: Grace Geyoro
After a challenging World Cup in 2019, Geyoro made an instant impact at Euro 2022, scoring a first-half hat-trick against Italy. The PSG captain is not a regular goalscorer by any means, but her contribution so far this tournament – three goals in three appearances, means she is a key cog in the French attack.
Her ability to link up with PSG team-mate Kadidiatou Diani, who scored the sixth-minute opener against Belgium, is a huge strength. As France look to take the game to the Netherlands this pair’s ability to combine will play a key role in the outcome of the tie.
Score prediction: France 2 Netherlands 1 (aet)
This will be the toughest game of each side’s campaign so far, as it should be in the knockout stages. Both France and the Netherlands are well matched, with strong firepower up front but lingering questions when it comes to putting together a complete defensive performance. Now is the time for such a display. The Oranje have had magnificent support here in England as they’ve defended their title, but as was the case in February, we anticipate that France will once again have enough to edge out this fixture thanks to a Geyoro winner this time around in extra time.
You can follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts
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