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The Netherlands will face England in the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ semi-finals on Sunday after edging out France 5-4 on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes of tense football.
France coach Bruno Bini professed on the eve of the match to "not even having thought about penalties" and he will be regretting that stance now after Corine Franco and Ophélie Meilleroux both connected with a post and Candie Herbert blasted over. The Netherlands kept letting them off the hook, however, with Daphne Koster and Dyanne Bito missing chances to end the shoot-out, until Anouk Hoogendijk finally converted to spark jubilant scenes. Before that, diligent defensive work from Vera Pauw's charges had made it a quiet night for France's quick and nimble forwards.
France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi was a surprise absentee from Bruno Bini's starting lineup after sustaining a late knee injury and that meant Céline Deville stood in between the posts, but it was her opposite number Loes Geurts who was first called into action, keeping out a Camille Abily effort after Élodie Thomis had found her team-mate with a back-pass. Gaëtane Thiney then spun a shot narrowly wide as Les Bleues established an early dominance.
Not the first time this tournament, however, the Netherlands opted to rely on their counterattacking pace and that approach nearly paid dividends when Manon Melis ran half the length of the pitch, turned inside Meilleroux and fired goalwards, with Deville just about able to divert the ball wide. That 15th-minute foray proved to be the last real chance of the first half too, as captain Koster and Co proved increasingly adept at denying France's tricky forwards room to operate at the other end.
Thomis had looked the player most capable of unlocking the Dutch defence and the speedy winger quickly won a corner after the break, from which Thiney headed across the face of goal. Bini's charges soon appeared to be running low on ideas, though, and the Oranje allowed themselves to play a slightly higher line and build from the back, though that failed to yield results until Karin Stevens darted through France's rearguard with ten minutes remaining only to direct her shot at the onrushing Deville.
A lax first touch from Melis when free on goal and a hopeful effort from France substitute Herbert straight at Geurts ensured that the match went into extra time, which was christened by another long-range drive at the Netherlands No1 from Herbert's fellow substitute, Eugénie Le Sommer. In response, Melis almost found the target with a vicious, curling drive and, as penalties approached, Sylvia Smit and Franco exchanged speculative shots over the bar. Herbert then ought to have scored when she nodded a corner centimetres wide with a minute to go before her side's shoot-out misery.
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