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Netherlands' ascent continues with win over Italy to reach Women's World Cup semifinals

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As if the Netherlands’ rise up the rungs in women’s soccer needed any affirmation, the Dutch have provided it this Women’s World Cup.

Vivianne Miedema and Stefanie van der Gragt scored in the second half as the Netherlands dispatched Italy Saturday to reach the semifinals in France.

Neither goal came before the 70th minute, but despite dodging a couple early Italian chances, they felt inevitable. Because once again this tournament, more than anything the Dutch wore down their opponent, with their attacking trident and bruising midfield ultimately winning the day.

The opening goal came on a well-worked set piece between the Netherlands’ all-time appearances leader and its all-time scoring leader. After a foul near the left sideline, Sherida Spitse whipped a dangerous ball into the box where Miedema provided just the right flick with her head to beat Italian goalkeeper Laura Giuliani:

For good measure, Spitse played another ball in 10 minutes later, this time from the right, this time onto van der Gragt’s head, and this time doubling the Dutch lead:

Like other teams at this World Cup, the Netherlands’ performance is in part due to a firm uptick in focus and spending on the women’s game. The Eredivisie Vrouwen was established in 2007, and pretty much all of the top Dutch players got their professional starts in the league before moving on to bigger clubs.

The front three in particular reflect this growth. Miedema plays for reigning English champion Arsenal, Shanice van de Senden plays for four-time reigning Champions League winner Olympique Lyonnais, and Lieke Martens for Barcelona, which was Champions League runner-up this past season.

Their activity and creativity make it hard for other teams to keep them off the scoresheet, and apart from a stoppage-time winner in their opener vs. New Zealand, the Dutch have scored at least two goals in every match at this World Cup.

The European title two summers ago came on home soil but was nevertheless surprising, and placed the brunt of expectations on the Netherlands this summer. Headed to their first World Cup semifinal, it’s safe to say these players have shouldered it well.

So too has Italy. Admittedly it’s a different kind of pressure, with the Italians making their first trip to the World Cup in 20 years, but the goal before the tournament was to make the knockout stage.

The Italians exceeded those expectations. They summited a group that included Australia and Brazil, both formidable in their own right, and then beat China to earn the program’s first knockout stage win ever at the Women’s World Cup.

They too are the burgeoning product of increased investment at home, with legacy clubs like Juventus and AC Milan pouring more money and resources into their women’s teams.

Now it’s about continuing that growth. As for the Dutch, we’ve yet to see where their growth will stop this tournament.

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