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Judo ace Groenen throws Dutch towards unlikely World Cup glory

Staff Writer

Jackie Groenen had not even managed a shot on target before coming up with the goal that took the Netherlands through to their first ever women’s World Cup final on Wednesday.

The midfielder’s long-range strike nine minutes into extra time that gave her team a 1-0 victory over Sweden in the semifinal in Lyon was just her third goal in 53 international appearances.

“I just saw a nice angle and we’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks that I need to take more shots, and the ball came really nicely so I just thought ‘let’s do it’,” said a delighted Groenen, 24.

A bronze medal winner as a youth at the 2010 European Judo Championships, Groenen is now looking to take her side to the top of the podium in France as they prepare to face the mighty United States in Sunday’s final.

The reigning European champions, the Dutch, are dreaming of winning a first World Cup in only their second appearance at the tournament. Only Germany and Norway have previously held both titles at the same time.

“It went through my mind as soon as I got off the pitch,” Groenen said of Sunday’s clash with the holders.

“They’re obviously a massive team, they have massive players, they’re the biggest team in the world, I can’t wait to play them.”

Unlike the ‘Total Football’ for which the men’s team are famed, the Dutch women are a hard-working, functional team who have struck late to win all three of their knockout matches, with a stoppage-time victory over Japan coming before two goals in the final 20 minutes downed Italy in the quarterfinals.

“We never thought this could be possible,” she said. “It’s one more match and we could be world champions. It feels so great.”

Groenen’s winner shoots her to worldwide prominence just as she prepares to move to Manchester United, joining Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema and Danielle van de Donk in England at the same time that Jill Roord also joins the Gunners.

“I’m really proud I’m going there but to come there with a World Cup that would be really cool,” said Roord.

“She played really good today, she’s had a really good tournament. Today she scored, she doesn’t score all that often but it was a really good game,” Roord said of Groenen.

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