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Friday, July 19, 2024

Spain advances to semi-finals in Women’s World Cup

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Wellington: Spain are through to the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time after Salma Paralluelo struck in extra time to send the Netherlands crashing out here on Friday.

Stefanie van der Gragt had earlier scored a last-gasp equaliser for the 2019 runners-up after conceding the penalty from which Mariona Caldentey had given La Roja what was, at the time, a thoroughly deserved opener.

This was expected to be a tight encounter but, as it was, Spain utterly dominated the opening 80 minutes. In fact, had it not been for some wasteful finishing and the brilliance of Daphne van Domselaar, they could have been out of sight and assured of a semi-final spot by half-time.

Those themes were underlined in one 17th-minute incident in which the Dutch keeper produced an outstanding save to tip Alba Redondo’s header on to the woodwork and then watched as the same Spaniard, from all of five yards, side-footed the rebound against the same post.

La Roja did have the ball in the net 20 minutes later but the goal was ruled out after a VAR review, with Esther Gonzalez shown to have been offside as she knocked home from close range. VAR would continue to play a prominent role in this match, with referee Stephanie Frappart awarding – then cancelling – a second-half penalty to the Netherlands before pointing to the spot at the other end after another visit to the pitch-side screens.

Caldentey stepped forward when van der Gragt’s handball was identified and, after a stuttering run-up, slammed a right-foot shot in off the inside of the post. It was a devastating moment for Van der Gragt, who will retire from international football after this tournament, and was visibly crestfallen. But when the big centre-back was sent forward as the Dutch searched frantically for an equaliser, she earned spectacular redemption, rifling home a stoppage-time equaliser of which any centre-forward would have been rightly proud.

The Netherlands were a team transformed and, having belatedly committed to forcing Spain back, they created – and spurned – the better chances in extra time through the lively Lineth Beerensteyn. That left the Dutch open to a sucker-punch, and Paralluelo duly delivered, breaking through on the left before crashing an unstoppable winner in off the far post.

Spain coach Jorge Vilda said,”You always dream of a moment like this. We’ve reached the semi-finals for the first time, we’re among the four best in the world, but we’re not going to stop. Today, yes, celebrate, but tomorrow we will prepare for the semi-finals because we want to be in the final.”

Netherlands coach Andries Jonker said, “Spain put us under a lot of pressure, but we fought. We had two great chances in extra-time to get the win today. I have mixed feelings. I am very disappointed we did not get to the semi-finals, but incredibly proud of my team. We want to be better. We want to be the best.”

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