LYON, France — Late Tuesday night, after the United States had secured a place in the final of the Women’s World Cup, Coach Jill Ellis suggested that her team had navigated the hardest path to the championship match in the history of the tournament.
On Wednesday, while watching the Netherlands and Sweden scrap for 120 minutes in the second semifinal of the competition, Ellis and her players might have concluded that their toughest work was already done.
The Netherlands emerged as a 1-0 winner, requiring extra time to settle a match in which neither team made a strong case as a contender to unseat the Americans, the reigning world champions.
The United States had to beat Spain (ranked No. 13 in the world), France (No. 4 and the tournament host) and England (No. 3) on its road through the knockout round. The top-ranked Americans’ meeting with the Netherlands (No. 8) will take place Sunday in Lyon.
The Dutch, the reigning European champion, will be playing in the World Cup final for the first time. The United States will be trying to win a record fourth world title.
“We haven’t been playing our best football and still reached the final, so that’s something incredible for our nation,” Dominique Bloodworth of the Netherlands said. “We have a lot of resilience and belief, and that’s something we’ve been showing this whole tournament.”
The Dutch breakthrough arrived in the first period of extra time, when Jackie Groenen found herself with the ball and a patch of open grass ahead of her. She took a running start from outside the box and drilled a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal in the 99th minute.
Groenen was asked whether she had already imagined beating the United States on Sunday.
“Yeah, obviously, a little bit, it kind went through my mind as soon as I got off the pitch,” she said with a smile. “They’re a massive team, and they have massive players. Obviously we know that. They’re the biggest team in the world, but I can’t wait to play them. And who knows what can happen?”
Sweden missed an opportunity to return to the final for the first time since 2003. The Netherlands has much less history in the World Cup: Its team appeared in the competition for the first time in 2015, losing to Japan in the round of 16.
“I’m proud we are doing this for the Netherlands and the young people who live there.” Daniëlle van de Donksaid.
There were 48,452 spectators packed into the Stade de Lyon on a muggy night. The Dutch fans clapped and sang along to a brass band embedded in the northern stands.
The most exciting action in regular time came in a span of less than 10 minutes in the second half, when both goalkeepers traded fingertip saves.
First came a chance for Sweden. The ball dribbled into the path of Nilla Fischer, who sent a strike with her right foot zipping diagonally across the mouth of goal. Sari van Veenendaal dived to her right and got a hand to the ball, which clanged off the left post.
Minutes later, Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands thumped an open header toward the Swedish goal, where Hedvig Lindahl leapt, and using just enough of two fingers, tipped the ball against the crossbar.
The Dutch players will face a tougher challenge from the United States, which will try to keep its potent attack whirring in the final game.
Van de Donk was asked by a reporter whether she thought the American striker Alex Morgan, who had pretended to sip tea after scoring in the semifinal against England, was preparing a celebration for the Dutch.
“I don’t think she’s going to score against us,” van de Donk said.