Italy reached the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in nearly three decades after beating China 2-0 in Montpellier yesterday. A 15th-minute tap in from Valentina Giacinti and substitute Aurora Galli’s fierce drive three minutes after the break saw Milena Bertolini’s side see off a committed Chinese side and match their best run in the competition back in 1991.
The Italians will now face either the Netherlands or Japan, who were playing later last night, in Valenciennes on Saturday for a shot at their first ever appearance in the last four. “It’s a great result after a difficult match. Today wasn’t a display of beautiful football but the girls gave everything and we were clinical,” said Bertolini. “To reach the quarter-finals is hugely satisfying.”
They will fancy their chances after a dream-like run in France that saw them win yesterday’s last 16 clash in Montpellier after topping a group containing Marta’s Brazil and pre-tournament dark horses Australia.
Giancinti started the move that gave Italy the lead after already having one effort ruled out for offside, feeding Barbara Bonansea on the edge of the box before the Juventus attacker slipped in Elisa Bartoli.
Roma defender Bartoli’s low effort was eventually tapped by Giacinti following Peng Shimeng’s smart save and indecision from the Chinese defence. The Italians had chances to extend their lead through Giacinti and her AC Milan teammate Valentina Bergamaschi, who forced a superb save from Peng, but China pinned them back as the half wore on.
However they effectively sealed their place in the semi-finals almost immediately after the restart through Galli, who collected Alia Guagni’s pass and composed herself before drilling a low shot past Peng. From there, outsiders Italy held off a determined China side with typically dogged defending and some solid goalkeeping from Laura Guliani to push them to equal their best-ever World Cup performance back in the first edition of the tournament.
On Monday, Megan Rapinoe scored two penalties as defending champions the United States beat Spain to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final against hosts France at the women’s World Cup, with Sweden joining them in the last eight.
On another day in the limelight for VAR, Sweden’s goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl made a brilliant second-half penalty save as her country edged out Canada 1-0 in Paris, meaning they advance to a similarly enticing tie against Germany.
In Paris, more than 38,000 fans saw Sweden edge out fifth-ranked Canada 1-0 at the Parc des Princes thanks to a solitary second-half goal scored by Stina Blackstenius, superbly set up by Kosovare Asllani.
Sweden then held on for the victory thanks to Lindahl, who dived to her right to keep out Janine Beckie’s 69th-minute penalty awarded after a VAR review showed Asllani had stopped a Desiree Scott shot with her arm.
“I was so happy, just pure joy, and my teammates felt the same way,” said Lindahl, when asked to describe her emotions after saving the spot-kick. That was the 22nd penalty awarded at this World Cup, equalling the total tally from the 2015 tournament and underlining the influence of Video Assistant Referees, although VAR later intervened to overturn a spot-kick awarded to Sweden.
Sweden will face Germany on Saturday in a repeat of the gold medal match at the 2016 Olympics, which the Germans won 2-1. “I had the best preparation today that you could have for a match like that. I listened to four albums by Neil Young, who is Canada’s top performer,” said Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.
Asked what music he would listen to before facing Germany, Gerhardsson went for some industrial metal. “It will be Rammstein. They released a new album and it will be heavy going on Saturday so that will work just fine.”
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