A lightening fast start from Norway had them two goals up in six mintues, the Netherlands resolute untill the end but unable to overturn the scores, the hosts bound for the Women's World Cup, the losers heading for the play-offs.
In the opening minutes, the pressure from the hosts was light and wayward, a corner in the fifth minute won by Kristine Minde’s industry enough to open the scores. The ball was pinged across face of goal to be hammered in by Ingrid Syrstad Engen. One fast became two as veteran attacker Isabell Herlovsen, chased down a long ball, beating Dominique Bloodworth to the ball in the air. Pulling Sari van Veenendaal out, the striker slipped around to pick the ball up and take her shot first time, putting it beyond the ‘keeper, letting it bounce home off of the upright.
The game found some normalcy, the attack-minded Dutch team trying to regain possession and push up against the less than orthodox home defence. The Norwegians, not always the most fluent team in attack suddenly buoyed by their quick-fire brace, those in red going forward with purpose.
A late challenge on Daniëlle van de Donk by Ingrid Moe Wold brought about the best chance for the visitors to get a foot back in the match, Sherida Spitse’s free kick refusing to be cleared as the pressure mounted. A half-cleared ball soon found its way back into the home half, Bloodworth skipping 50-yards with it before launching a deflected shot towards goal, Ingrid Hjelmseth dirtying her gloves but under no real threat.
Making her presence more and more known, Shanice van de Sanden sent a teasing ball into the box 20 minutes in, a standing jump from van de Donk enough to connect, her header weak but only just about dealt with by Hjelmseth.
Dutch hit back
Utilising their set pieces well, Norway had van Veenendaal on the ropes twice more before the 25 minute, first when Maren Mjelde’s direct free kick slipped over the bar before Lisa-Marie Utland saw a header at a corner bounce off of the post. There was a little too much push and pull in the midfield for the match to be all out attack vs all out attack, but both sides were full of intent. Attack the best defence in Oslo.
Having already shown their sloppiness in possession, the hosts were finally punished when Vivianne Miedema stole the ball away and slipped into the box, Hjelmseth shrinking away in the one-on-one. With the ‘keeper already committed and down, the Dutch striker was left to roll the ball into the empty net, slashing the deficit in half. Good work on the left by Lieke Martens saw Miedema played in again seconds later, her first time shot volleyed against Hjelmseth’s left boot before bouncing clear in the melee.
Not on a song so far in the match, but persisting on, Caroline Graham Hansen’s determined work saw more red shirts flock forward, the ball cleared to Frida Maanum 25 yards out. With a wallop, the Linköping youngster lashed her shot goalwards, van Veenendaal diving for it but failing to contact, the ball slammed into the woodwork with a resounding thud.
Finishing the half strongest, the chances continued to flow for the European champions, a cross-cum-shot from van de Sanden followed by a curled free kick from Spitse and a deflected Miedema effort. The Dutch the team in the accendancy at the break.
Still with the bit between their teeth, the visiting side attacked with force, blue pushing against red, working space and finding cracks, the hosts unable to get out of their own half. An advantageous shot from Martens enough to call Hjelmseth into action ten minutes after the restart, the veteran ‘keeper getting a hand to the rocketed shot to turn it around for a corner. The pressure from the Dutch relentless, the chances multiplying as the scores stayed the same.
A smart turn and run from Herlovsen should have been enough for the hosts to restore their cushion, racing through the defence, drawing those in blue towards her and leaving space for Utland, the decision making once more let the home side down. With Utland clean through, the striker opted to play the ball backwards for Graham Hansen, the winger travelling before firing a weak shot well wide. The lack of vision from Norway, a persistent issue over the course of the match.
The leggier the hosts looked the more likely the visitors seemed of pinching a vital equaliser, the balls served into the box perfect for the likes of Miedema, van de Donk and Martens to attack. A pulsating run from van de Sanden should looked hammered on to produce an equaliser, Miedema’s equally pacey run into the box to meet the cross tracked by Mjelde, who denied the Arsenal attacker the chance. Time continued to tick down to the Dutch, but at no point did they look out of the match, the pressure rising ever higher with each second.
The introduction of Jill Roord gave the visitors a greater edge in attack, more bodies in midfield willing to flock into the box and make things happen. A snap shot from Spitse enough to have Hjelmseth diving, the crowd held its breath as the net rippled, the ball having connected with the outside.
A change of personnel for the hosts meant a change of shape with the industrious Maanum moving higher up the pitch, the Scandinavians better for the shake up. Still riding their luck at one end of the pitch, the hosts made more happen in the Dutch box that they had all half, Maanum the catalyst as they had a second penalty shout waved away, Graham Hansen’s low shot deflected in the same move.
A weak shot dribbled into the arms of van Veenendaal before the ball changed ends, an equally as weak shot slipping into Hjelmseth’s grasp. Pass, block, pass, block; Dutch could not find a way through in the box no matter how hard they tried, the match with just minutes left, another ferocious direct free kick from Spitse came close but whisked over the bar.
The noise from the crowd grew and grew as the minutes became seconds, only stoppage time left for the Dutch to snatch a late goal and seal a place in France, memories of their winner in the reverse fixture hanging heavy. A touch on Lineth Beerensteyn from Maria Thorisdottir enough to take her down three yards outside of the box, Spitse’s free kick spilled by Hjelmseth but somehow just about cleared. A corner to the Dutch at the very death, the end of the match, the end of qualifying, van Veenendaal went up and the ball pinged back and forth, bouncing between feet before, finally, gloriously it was hoofed clear. The Norwegians ecstatic, France welcoming them with open arms at the whistle, the Dutch deflated, left to go through the play-offs.