At this point, I've nearly run out of ways to describe Italy's run through the 2019 World Cup. Italy has reached the Elite Eight on the back of a stringent defense and timely (and at times explosive) scoring, and thanks to stellar individual performances from Cristiana Girelli, Barbara Bonansea and Aurora Galli, Italy have become the darlings of the tournament, emerging as the crowd favorite in the quest to dethrone Alex Morgan and the United States.
Of course, before they can fulfill that prophecy they have to dispatch of the Dutch. The Netherlands breezed through group play, topping Group E with a perfect 3-0 record, while they squeaked past Japan in the Round of 16 thanks to a 2-1 victory on Tuesday. Despite that slim victory, Holland, thanks in large part to the impressive of Lieke Mertens and Vivianne Miedema, stand as one of the most potent sides in the tournament and will surely be the Azzurre's toughest test yet.
While Italy's 2-0 win over China wasn't their most lopsided victory, Milena Bertolini ran out arguably her strongest lineup on Tuesday, using a malleable 4-3-1-2 with Girelli sitting in the hole behind Bonansea and AC Milan's Valentina Giacinti, who was Italy's latest victim of the delayed offside demon that's been plaguing them all month long.
With Girelli's ability to move laterally across the pitch and even push up between the two forwards, Italy kept China at sixes and sevens, and with Elisa Bartoli and Alia Guagni joining the fray from their fullback slots, Italy was able to swarm the final third and overwhelm China's defense.
The Dutch figure to present a stiffer challenge this time around, so Italy will need to avoid the same bouts of inconsistency that nearly let China back into Tuesday's match, and considering how the linesman's flag has haunted them throughout this tournament, they'll want to be more mindful of whatever offside trap the Dutch may deploy.
Italy certainly feel like a team of destiny, but today's match is the realest test they've had yet, and if they can conquer Holland the dream will live on.
Italy vs. Netherlands
Kickoff: 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT
Venue: Stade du Hainaut, Valenciennes
Streaming: Fubo TV