Red is the colour
As was to be expected, Spain were the team that started in the ascendancy, flowing forward and finding banks of blue Dutch shirts but an incisive ball from Aitana Bonmati threaded through to Lucía García who flashed the ball across goal but Paulina Quaye was down quickly to gather. The Dutch immediately looked to counter, Soraya Verhoeve tearing up the left side of the pitch but La Roja were well back to snuff out the danger.
Although the Oranje looked to sit deep and counter they already looked tired early on, switching off at the back and granting their opposition too much space. García pounced on a loose ball and took it to the by-line before crossing into the box as Sandra Hernández made a smart late-run but the captain’s first touch was heavy and the ball that should have been rippling the back of the net rolled into Quaye’s grateful gloves.
After a scrappy opening twenty minutes, tenacious work from Verhoeve and Michelle Hendriks saw find Suzanne Admiraal in front of the Spain box. Admiraal watching the ball every inch of the way to strike it on the half-volley, firing inside of the far post, well past Amaia Peña.
Spain refused to lie down and came right back at the Netherlands from the restart, Kay-Lee de Sanders conceding a sloppy free kick for a foul on Hernández, the captain opting to go direct from over 25 yards out, her thunder-strike leaving Quaye with no hope of keeping her out. Two absolute stunners in the space of seconds.
With parity restored the game slipped back into the same scrappy rhythm with La Roja dominating the ball and the Oranje looking shaky.
Once again García carried the ball to the by-line before sending a dangerous cross into the box, the ball dropping to Andrea Sánchez sandwiched between two defenders but at point-blank range any touch should have been enough to beat Quaye. Her touch was lacking and the ball flew up harmlessly for the Dutch number one to pluck out of the air.
With just seconds left until the break and the Dutch looking more and more leggy Sánchez cut in from the left before firing a vicious effort at the away goal and Quaye was on hand once more to make an impressive save and keep her side in it.
In stark contrast to the first-half, the Netherlands were the team who fired out of the blocks for the second period, Spain looking sluggish and their opposition dominating the middle of the park and looking to use the full width.
Despite their dominance the Oranje couldn’t find the final ball to test Peña until they got a large slice of luck and helping hand from Beatriz Beltrán. Linn Andersson adjudged the Spanish defender to have handled the ball - a very harsh call for a ball to hand situation - but the free kick was given and Jill Roord, who’d been someone anonymous, was tasked with dispatching the dead ball. With the free kick very central Roord couldn’t do much but get the ball up and over the wall, and with Peña unbeaten in goal before this match the Spanish keeper made a calamitous error, letting the ball slip past her fingertips and into the back of the net.
The Dutch thoroughly deserving the goal after such a strong second-half but the Spanish understandably feeling hard done by.
Once again Spain had to come from behind and once again their powered through the gears to force themselves back into the game. Sánchez, who’d done all but score, picked the ball up deep on the left side of the box, one-on-one with Yvonne Van Schijndel who was easily dealt with by the tricky attacker. With red shirts lining up in the box, Sánchez took the ball to the deadball line before firing across and into the box before finding Hernández once again making a late run, despite the mess of bodies in the box the captain side-footed low into the net.
Spain step up
After restoring parity Spain looked determined to lead for the first time in the game and it didn’t take long, breaking after a sloppy corner and working their own corner kick. With Andrea Sánchez delivering the set piece, Quaye came off her line to meet the ball only to see it sail over her head. One of the few red shirts on the far side of the box, Marta Cazalla sipped behind Sisca Folkertsma and got enough on the ball to divert it into goal and give La Roja the lead.
With their noses in front Spain began to apply more and more pressure, the unfavoured Dutch a little lost for a way through. The match all but won as Hernández completed her hat trick with just under ten minutes to go, her strike from outside the box taking a nick off of van Schijindel’s backside to bury the ball in the far corner far beyond Quaye.
Van Schijndel immediately withdrew as Jessica Torny went all out and switched to a back three. Esmee De Graaf brought on and with an instant impact, Verhoeve sending the ball into the box as blue shirts lined up and red were conspicuously absent. The ball dropped to Dutch captain, Hendriks, her first touch was poor but she had the time to recover before firing past a nervous Peña.
With the clock ticking down the game began to get frantic as the Netherlands pushed for an equaliser and Spain nervously eyed the clock.
After a scrappy first-half the second-half was a joy to watch as the pendulum swung from Spain to Holland and back again.
There were beautiful goals and goalkeeping errors from both, everyone expected Spain to come out on top and twenty minutes into the second-half it looked like the Netherlands were about to cause an upset but Spain stepped up to the challenge.
Both are still developing nations but at the end of the day the Spanish quality won out, statistically better, arguably technically better and most importantly, the side on top at the final whistle.
Spain are through to their third successive final, and with France as their opposition, it’s a clash not to be missed.