The quarter-final line-up at France 2019 is complete, with USA the exception to a remarkable rule. For the first time, the remaining seven members of the last eight all hail from the same confederation, with Italy and the Netherlands having further bolstered the European contingent.
The most recent gains for the old continent were made at the expense of Asia, as Japan – winners in 2011, finalists in 2015 – and China PR were sent tumbling out. Their conquerors will now meet in the quarter-finals, with Valenciennes bracing for a Dutch-Italian invasion.
Sonja Nikcevic (ITA)
Italy came through this match, their toughest test at France 2019 by far, due to the tactical intelligence of Milena Bertolini. The Azzurre coach knew that starting Valentina Giacinti would trouble China’s defensive lines, and recognised early in the first half that star striker Cristiana Girelli was being overrun and that replacing her with Aurora Galli could tip the balance back in her team's favour. It was Aurora’s rocket shot that confirmed the victory for Italy, whose run to the quarter-finals has been nothing short of a sensation.
Qian Sun (CHN)
After three defensive performances, we finally saw a different, more attacking version of the Steel Roses. In the second half, there were even four forwards on the field at the same time and they combined to mount a series of attacks from multiple angles. We saw the press forward until the very last minute, and it was only the lack of a killer touch that prevented them registering at least one goal - and maybe mounting a comeback. It makes me wonder if Wang Shanshan - the key player in China’s defence - had been able to play the whole game, would the result have been any different? In any case, fans will be grateful that the team put up such a brave fight, showing true Steel Roses spirit.
Emma Coolen (NED)
It was another nail-biter for the Oranjeleeuwinnen, but the joy won’t be any less for the nervy way in which they clinched this late win over Japan. The Dutch started strongly and were deserving of the lead given to them by Lieke Martens' excellent flicked finish. But Japan gained a grip on the match as half-time approached and then dominated the second period before Martens' decisive penalty. There will be much to ponder and discuss for the Netherlands but, right now, there’s only one thing that matters: they are in the quarter-finals!
Ai Yoshiizumi (JPN)
This was a fearless performance from Japan, particularly in the second half, when they played some superb football. The Nadeshiko ended the game with seven players who were competing in their first senior World Cup, and yet they were the dominant team. But football matches are decided by who scores the most goals and, despite the attractive football they produced, this Japan team couldn't outscore the dogged Dutch. The Nadeshiko's journey in France ends here.
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