Netherlands Beat Japan 2-1 to Qualify for 2019 Women's World Cup Quarter-Finals

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 25, 2019

RENNES, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Lieke Martens of Netherlands celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mates during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Netherlands and Japan at Roazhon Park on June 25, 2019 in Rennes, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)
Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

The Netherlands advanced to the FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals for the first time after beating Japan 2-1 at Roazhon Park in Rennes, France, on Tuesday.

Lieke Martens steered in the breakthrough via a slight deflection early on, but the Netherlands paid for failing to build on their lead as Yui Hasegawa levelled shortly before half-time.

The video assistant referee was again at the centre of controversy, however, when the Netherlands were given a last-minute penalty for a hand-ball by Japan captain Saki Kumagai. Martens stepped up to convert a second and make history for her team.

The Oranje will face Italy in the last eight after they beat China 2-0 earlier on Tuesday thanks to goals from Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli.

The European champions have made massive strides to boost their status on the international stage in recent years, and Japan's extra pedigree in World Cup competition wasn't apparent in the opening exchanges.

Coach Sarina Wiegman will have been pleased with the upper hand they took in possession and chances at goal early on, simultaneously suffocating Japan in their attempts to open up opportunities.

Record cap-holder Sherida Spitse—making her 166th appearance for the Netherlands—played a low ball into the Japanese box, and Barcelona forward Martens flashed a smart heel to finish, via Fox Soccer (U.S. only):

Yuika Sugasawa showed why she's better placed in attack and bumped the ball to help it past goalkeeper Ayata Yamashita. However, BBC 5 Live Sport pundit Pat Nevin took nothing away from Martens for her show of ingenuity:

Sugasawa almost instantly made up for her misfortune by drilling in the equaliser several minutes later. The Urawa Red Diamonds forward found a pocket of space on the edge of the Dutch box but could only bend her curling effort onto the outside of the right post (U.S. only):

One downside of the Netherlands' energy-sapping press is that it's difficult to sustain, and there was a shift in momentum towards the end of the first period as Japan eked further into the Dutch half.

Some wonderful link-up play on the edge of the area saw Mana Iwabuchi put Hasegawa through against Dutch keeper and captain Sari van Veenendaal, chipping over with comfort (U.S. only):

Match of the Day pundit Alex Scott believed Japan deserved to be on level terms despite their slow start:

The tie remained finely balanced after the restart as the last two round-of-16 competitors put on a highly proficient display, featuring some of the best football seen in this round.

Van Veenendaal had more to deal with in the second half but proved equal to the tests, with Hasegawa coming close to scoring a second on the 70-minute mark.

Japan ended the 90 minutes as the Netherlands began and were beginning to bear down on the Dutch goal in numbers, rattling the crossbar through midfielder Hina Sugita. 

Amid all the VAR controversy so far in France, the decision to give a penalty against Kumagai in the 89th minute seemed as questionable as any other. Her arms didn't appear raised, but the ball coming into contact was seen to meet the criteria for a hand-ball and the decisive spot-kick was awarded (U.S. only):

It was a special goal for Martens individually, too, as she entered the Dutch history books, per OptaJohan:

Another cruel twist of fate instigated by the officials—or perhaps more specifically, the current rules—will take the headlines after a thrilling fixture in Rennes, and Japan will leave with a sour taste in their mouths.

The Netherlands held off a late barrage of chances in a back-and-forth clash that won't be soon forgotten, and they'll face another new-look international force in Italy next.

    

What's Next?

The Netherlands will play their maiden Women's World Cup quarter-final against Italy at the Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes, France, on Saturday.

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