Stefanie Van Der Gragt, left, rises to scores the Netherlands' second goal. (Francisco Seco/AP)

For the first time, the Netherlands in is in the Women’s World Cup semifinals. The reigning European champions put it all together in the second half against Italy to march to a 2-0 win in stifling heat in Valenciennes. The Orange will face the winner of Saturday’s later quarterfinal pitting Germany and Sweden.

After a half of uninspired soccer, the Netherlands began the second 45 minutes in a frenzy, generating chance after chance until breaking through on two set pieces. So complete was the Dutch domination — they controlled nearly 60 percent of possession — that a frustrated Italian side picked up four yellow cards trying to win the ball back.

Those fouls proved to be their undoing. Finally looking crisp, the Netherlands scored on a pair of headers that made the bookings sting even more. Vivianne Miedema scored in the 70th minute, Stefanie Van Der Gragt in the 80th.

If that half is any indicator, the Dutch side should have enough class to compete with either Germany or Sweden, both top 10 teams in the world.

In-game highlights

87th minute: Substitutions

Jill Roord and Anouk Dekker enter for the goal scorers, Stefanie Van De Gragt and Vivianne Miedema. The Dutch could be trying to get a bit of rest for their stars with the semifinal berth in their grasp.

80th minute: Goal, Netherlands

This could well punch the Dutch ticket to the World Cup semifinals. Italy’s Daniela Sabatino whacked down a Netherlands attacker to earn a yellow card and on the ensuing free kick, the Orange didn’t miss its opportunity. Stefanie Van Der Gragt got her head to the cross and slotted it into the top left corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.

73rd minute: Yellow card

Italy’s Valentina Cernoia is carded for a foul on Lineth Beerensteyn.

70th minute: Goal, Netherlands

Finally, a goal. Sherida Spitse swing a free kick from 30 yards into the box right onto the head of Vivianne Miedema, who got free behind the defense on a well-timed run and plunked the ball into the top right corner of the net. The Dutch had been pouring on some offense for a while. It will be tough for Italy to equalize in the oppressive heat and without much possession of the ball.

67th minute: Yellow card to Alia Guagni

Italy’s Guagni pulled down Lineth Beerensteyn on the right flank outside the 18-yard box and then did some barking at the referee. Both the foul and the conversation were clearly worthy of a booking, but luckily for Italy, the Dutch free kick was harmlessly long.

56th minute: Netherlands substitution

Lineth Beerensteyn enters for winger Shanice Van De Sanden.

54th minute: Italy substitution

Daniela Sabatino enters for Barbara Bonansea in the midfield.

52nd minute: Here come the Dutch

The Netherlands has come out of the half in a groove, generating three high-quality chances in the past four minutes. Running their offense through the right flank with Shanice Van De Sanden, Jackie Groenen and Danielle Van De Donk, Italy can’t seem to take the ball away, or keep crosses out of the box. They have livened up the match and appear on the verge of breaking through.

Halftime: 0-0

Through one half, it’s hard to pick a favorite between Italy and the Netherlands. At a scoreless tie, both have shared chances and both look a step behind.

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe — as this World Cup stage often engenders — it’s the desire not to lose. But two of the tournament’s most highflying and unpredictable sides have played 45 minutes of predictable, at times uninspired, soccer.

In stoppage time at the end of the half, the Dutch finally began possessing the ball with purpose, spurred on by a late free kick just outside the 18-yard box. Sherida Spitse took the try and sent an unthreatening ball around Italy’s defensive wall that was saved.

Italy, content to counterattack and but often inaccurate with its passing, still had just as many shots as the Netherlands (they were credited with five apiece), and of arguably of better quality.

But neither side was anywhere close to breaking through.

41st minute: Yellow card for Italy

Defender Elena Linari earned a yellow card for pulling down a Dutch attacker about a foot outside the 18-yard box. It’s the first high-quality chance for the Netherlands and Sherida Spitse took the free kick. She tried to spin a low ball wide of the Italian wall, but it was no test for keeper Laura Giuliani.

25th minute: Tip the band

There hasn’t been a ton of action yet — there was one shot taken on goal through 25 minutes, by Italy — but fans in Valenciennes are still getting their money’s worth whenever the Dutch are on the ball. A group of trumpeters is belting out covers of everything from “We Will Rock You” to “Hey! Baby” to “Yellow Submarine.” After a questionable Dutch handball, they played horse racing’s traditional “Call to the Post.” If you’re watching the match at home, turn up the volume. You can hear the brass loud and clear.

And we’re off!

It’s another scorching day as France deals with a historic heat wave. It’s 91 degrees in Valenciennes in northeast France near the Belgian border. The referee will periodically stop play for mandatory hydration breaks.

Here are the match’s starting lineups.

How they got here

Between Italy and the Netherlands, whose run to the World Cup quarterfinals was more impressive? The Italians, the No. 15 team in the world, finished first in a group that included top-10 teams Australia and Brazil, and then knocked off China, 2-0, in the round of 16. The Dutch, the world’s No. 8 team, beat two higher-ranked teams in Canada and Japan, and are one of four remaining teams that has yet to lose a game in this tournament.

That makes this match among the most intriguing in the quarterfinals. Two European teams, two relatively evenly matched teams, two teams that have won games as the aggressor and counterpuncher, two teams searching for their first trip to a semifinal.

The Netherlands arrived here on a VAR-awarded last-minute penalty against Japan scored by Lieke Martens, her second tally of the tournament. As fortuitous as it was, it also symptomatic of the Dutch’s struggle to create meaningful offensive chances with their World Cup dreams on the line.

For Italy, the 2-0 victory over China in the round of 16 was a triumph, but it is now a team diminished. Striker Cristiana Girelli, who had a had trick against Jamaica in group play, left the last match early after reportedly suffering from heatstroke. With the quarterfinal match arriving just four days later, it is unclear if she will be well enough to play.

Italy was the lowest ranked team to advance to the quarterfinals and is in this round for the first time since 1991, while Netherlands is in the quarterfinals for the first time.

Postgame reading

Megan Rapinoe stands tall as U.S. beats France in World Cup battle worthy of the hype

The France-United States quarterfinal lived up to its billing, and more. And when 90 exhausting minutes expired, the United States remained in contention for a fourth championship by edging France, 2-1, in a riveting match. (Read more)

For broadcasters, Women’s World Cup rallies record audiences with an event and a cause

The social activism of many players has become a major subplot of the tournament. Broadcasters and advertisers have taken notice, spreading those messages to a growing global audience that experiences the event mostly through television. (Read more)

VAR is working at World Cup, FIFA says. That’s not wrong, but it could work better.

The video replay system, which is being used at the Women’s World Cup for the first time, has been at the center of controversy in several matches. And though it has greatly reduced egregious errors, more subjective rulings, as well as the time spent on reviews, are areas of concern. (Read more)

On Women’s World Cup rosters, the global impact of Title IX is clear

At the World Cup, it’s not just the United States that’s reaping the long-established benefits of Title IX, the federal legislation that in 1972 required equal opportunity for girls and women. Nations around the world have rosters sprinkled with athletes who were recruited by U.S. colleges and have been shaped, in meaningful ways, by NCAA competition. (Read more)

The U.S. World Cup team’s greatest challenge: Rising European powers

With England and host nation France joining perennial powers Germany and the United States among the top four ranked teams in the world, parity is far greater in the elite ranks than at the bottom. (Read more)

England romps over Norway to advance to World Cup semifinals

The Lionesses on Thursday advanced to their second straight World Cup semifinals with a dominating performance against Norway. (Read more)