Tuesday 17 September 2019, 12:35

Sarina Wiegman: Defining match

  • Sarina Wiegman in the running to be named The Best FIFA Women’s Coach

  • Steered her country to second place at the World Cup in just their second appearance

  • Earned plenty of praise despite defeat in the final

When people discuss decisive matches in a coach’s career, they usually mean victories. Sarina Wiegman has had plenty of those – take for example the 3-0 win over England in the semi-final of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017, and the final of that same tournament against Denmark.

Then there was the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, where her team defeated Canada (2-1) in the group phase then went through the quarter and semi-final without conceding a goal, with wins over Italy (2-0) and Sweden (1-0).

And yet it could well be a defeat that is the defining match of Wiegman’s career to date – the one in the final of the World Cup against the all-time record winners of that tournament, USA. Netherlands lost, but thanks to Wiegman’s tactics, they came so, so close.

The tactical set-up

Having recovered from a toe injury, Lieke Martens came back into the starting line-up in place of Merel van Dongen, while Anouk Dekker was brought into the centre of defence, with Dominique Bloodworth moving to left back.

Wiegman kept faith with her 4-2-3-1 formation but with more of a reliance on counter-attacks, with the team morphing into an extremely compact 4-4-2 when they did not have the ball. At times they defended quite high up the pitch, but since USA were often forced to send long balls forward, this played to the strengths of Dekker and Stefanie van der Gragt in the air.

Lineth Beerensteyn operated as a lone striker with Vivianne Miedema behind her, both of them playing deeper than usual, with the plan being to create quick chances on the break.

The outcome

To appreciate just how impressive the performance of Wiegman’s team was in the final, you have to realise that throughout the tournament, it had taken the defending champions no more than 12 minutes to open the scoring in each and every one of their previous matches.

Thailand were the ones who held out the longest, but by the time the final whistle blew, USA had inflicted a tournament record 13-0 defeat on them. Against France, it took them just five minutes to take the lead, while England held out for ten.

The Oranjeleeuwinnen defended as if their lives depended on it in the first half, and thanks to their set-up, they went into the break with the match still goalless – this against a USA team that would end the tournament as top scorers with 26 goals. It also helped that Sari van Veenendaal, who was awarded the adidas Golden Glove for best goalkeeper of the tournament after the match, was once again in fine form.

As anticipated, Wiegman’s team looked at their most dangerous on the break, and had their decision-making been a little better in the first half, they could even have taken the lead. The coach had drummed a game-plan into her players that almost came off to perfection, and who knows what might have happened if USA had found themselves chasing the score for the first time in the tournament?

It took a penalty kick for Van Veenendaal to be beaten for the first time in the final, after Netherlands had held firm for a solid hour, but Megan Rapinoe was perfectly placed to convert from 12 yards out.

Mere minutes later, Rose Lavelle made it 2-0, and a brave final flurry from the Dutch ultimately came to nought. USA were without doubt worthy world champions once again, but Wiegman had succeeded in nullifying the threat of the stand-out team of the tournament for long periods of time – proof of what a fine job she did in setting up her own eleven for this particular match.

The reaction

"You are a world-class team and you played an incredible match here."

USA head coach Jill Ellis praises the Netherlands after the final

"We would have so loved to win this final, but unfortunately we didn’t. Our opponents were better than us. We’re the second-best team in the world though, and that’s something I’m very proud of. We’re going to be playing in our first ever Olympic football tournament. This team has enormous potential. The average age is under 26, and so a lot of the players are going to develop even further."

Sarina Wiegman acknowledges that her side has a bright future ahead