LYON, France — The reigning world champion will face the European champion for the 2019 World Cup title.
The United States women’s national team is ranked first in the world, has won three World Cup titles, including the last one in 2015, and will play in its third consecutive final. Netherlands, ranked eighth, is playing in its second World Cup and first final.
The differences seem vast entering Sunday’s 11 a.m. ET matchup between the Americans and the Dutch at Stade de Lyon. But U.S. coach Jill Ellis and her players were quick to shoot down the idea that Netherlands is not on the same competitive level.
“I mean, the Netherlands are a tremendous team. They’re European champions,” Ellis said. “They’ve got a lot of talented players and a coach who knows what she’s doing. We watched a lot of film and kind of tried to follow every team through the tournament. They move the ball very well and are very disciplined in what they do. So I expect it to be a very competitive match.”
Netherlands’ defense conceded just three goals throughout the tournament, two in the group stage and one in the round of 16. It now will try to stop the most prolific attack in the tournament, one that’s scored 24 goals and is led by strikers Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. The United States’ defense, considered its weakest area, also stepped up this tournament and has conceded three goals, one in each of the previous three rounds.
Ellis said no one is ruled out for the match, meaning Rapinoe and midfielder Rose Lavelle are expected to be ready to go after dealing with minor muscle strains during the week.
Netherlands star Lieke Martens, the 2017 FIFA Player of the Year, is dealing with a toe injury that took her out of Wednesday’s semifinal victory over Sweden at halftime. Her status is still up in the air.
“She’s preparing for the game tomorrow. We’re not sure if she can start, but we’re working on it,” Netherlands coach
Sarina Wiegman said of Martens. “We don’t know the outcome yet, so we’ll decide tomorrow morning.”
The final is the culmination of a 24-team tournament that began June 7.
The U.S. finished first in Group F and then beat Spain, France and England all by 2-1 margins in the knockout stages to get to the final. All three games were physical and tightly contested, creating what Morgan called “the most difficult route to the final that this program has ever seen.”
Netherlands finished first in Group E. The Dutch beat Japan 2-1, Italy 2-0 and Sweden 1-0 on its way to a World Cup final debut, but they needed a 90th-minute penalty and a goal in extra time to get by Japan and Sweden, respectively. They enter the final with one less day of rest than the U.S.
“I think in this tournament, they’ve had the lion’s share of the ball in many games, but they’ve also had to just dig in and grind out wins. That’s a sign of a very good team,” Rapinoe said. “Like Jill said, champions of Europe. We’ve seen first hand the last three games what it’s like to try to go through Europe like that. It’s very difficult.”
The finalists have two of the largest traveling fan bases. Nearly every U.S. match, aside from the one against France, felt like a home game because of the loud and overwhelming number of fans in the stadiums. And the Dutch fans have been the talk of the tournament, flooding the streets with orange.
Dutch king King Willem-Alexander also will be at the match. U.S. president Donald Trump sent a six-person White House delegation to the game.
The U.S. and Netherlands haven’t played each other since 2016, and both programs have evolved a lot since then. Although the Americans may be heavy favorites, Wiegman and her players said they’re just fine with being the underdog.
“We’re European champions, but we want more,” Dutch midfielder Sherida Spitse said. “We’re in the biggest game in the world. It’s fantastic. It’s great to play finals, but we want to win them.”