Football | Investment pays off as Europe dominates Women’s World Cup

Netherlands, Italy, Norway, England, Germany, Sweden, France, and the US dispute the quarter finals

Even Netherlands forward Lineth Beerensteyn had to check that the number was right.

“Oh my God — seven,” she exclaimed. “That’s a lot.”

Europe sure is dominating this Women’s World Cup.

The Netherlands made it a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals by knocking out Japan, which won the tournament in 2011 and reached the final four years ago.

Never before in the previous seven editions had an Asian team missed out on making the last eight. Only the United States’ victory over Spain prevented a clean sweep by European teams in the round of 16, and the defending champions now have to face host France today.

“Sometimes it kind of feels like a Euros,” Netherlands forward Vivianne Miedema said. “America is amazing.”

The compliment isn’t being returned by U.S. forward Tobin Heath.

“As a football fan, to me I would want a little bit more diversity at this point,” Heath said. “I find European football is sometimes a little boring and I think that there’s some teams that are so exciting to watch, that you won’t be able to see this kind of different style, which is unfortunate at this stage because I appreciate certain teams that are no longer in the tournament.”

There is a freshness to the field, however.

The Dutch are in the quarterfinals for the first time in only their second appearance to the tournament. Italy, their opponent tomorrow, is back in the quarterfinals for the first time since the first FIFA women’s showpiece in 1991.

The round opens with Norway playing England, which finished third in 2015, and wraps up with two-time champion Germany taking on Sweden.

Investment domestically is raising standards for players, cementing Europe’s control of the international game.

“The biggest example is Italy,” Miedema said. “They put a lot of money into Juventus and in a couple of other clubs. You see it directly on the World Cup.”

All but one of the Italian players plays at home, with eight out of 23 playing on the Serie A-winning Juventus squad.

“Once the league in your country is really strong then you know your national team is going to become better as well,” Miedema said. “It’s only going to become bigger.”

But a few clubs have emerged as forces in the women’s game.

As many players on the Netherlands squad play for Ajax — four — as they do for newly crowned English champion Arsenal, including Miedema. While Arsenal was crowned European champion in 2007, Ajax has never conquered the continent.

The appearance of Norway in the World Cup quarterfinals signals a resurgence for the 1995 champions.

The Norwegians reached the semifinals in four of the first five editions of the Women’s World Cup, but were eliminated in the group stage in 2011 and in the round of 16 in 2015.

The majority of the squad still plays for Norwegian clubs, which struggle to make an impact in continental competitions and can’t afford the professional contracts enjoyed by the entire England traveling party.

“When there is money, other leagues can dominate,” Norway coach Martin Sjögren said through a translator. “In Scandinavian countries they were really early starting with women’s football — that means we have a history […] but bigger nations started to invest. It had to produce results and maybe put women’s football even more on the map.”

Sweden finished third in 1991 and 2011 and lost the 2003 final to Germany. Rob Harris, Le Havre, AP

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