Spain Goes the Distance to Reach the Women’s World Cup Semifinals for the First Time. Salma Paralluelo probably would not have selected soccer. Indeed, it was not her only option. Parallels, a 19-year-old striker for Spain, was also a promising prospect in track and field; she was such a talented runner that she could have represented her nation at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago. Her selected event was the 400-meter dash. She still retains the under-20 national record for the distance.
She is also precisely what her country needed at the finish line of a marathon.
Friday’s Women’s World Cup quarterfinal matchup between Spain and the Netherlands was always likely to be competitive. As evidenced by Spain’s exhausting, narrow, 2-1 victory, close may be an understatement. There is only a hair’s breadth separating these teams: the Spanish, Europe’s rising force, and the Dutch, renowned for their talent and notable for their tenacity.
In 2010, this combination was sufficient to propel the Netherlands to the World Cup final against the United States. This year, a return voyage might be possible. How Andries Jonker’s squad advanced from the group stage was more impressive than spectacular. Significantly, it had finished ahead of the United States. Due to the reflexes and concentration of its goalkeeper, Daphne van Domselaar, it had kept South Africa at bay in the round of 16.
The Netherlands may have been missing its cutting edge — star striker Vivianne Miedema is one of the many players absent from this World Cup due to a severe knee injury — but it had found a way to compensate by blunting the opposition. Lineth Beerensteyn was able to take a slight jab at the United States team when she met with reporters before the contest because the team’s confidence was growing. According to Bernstein, the Americans, who succumbed to Sweden in the round of 16, had spoken too much. “You must do it on the field,” she stated.
Initially, it appeared that she would keep her word. Spain dominated possession in the bright winter sunlight of Wellington, New Zealand because Spain always dominates possession. Spain also created opportunities, as Spain consistently does.
But it was unable to defeat the Dutch. Spain encountered van Domselaar, as indomitable as ever, whenever it maneuvered through the defense’s dense ranks, repelling everything it could throw at him.
And when van Domselaar was defeated, Spain discovered that the stadium’s tangible infrastructure was choosing sides: Midway through the first half, Redondo struck the crossbar twice quickly. A few minutes later, Esther González’s goal was disallowed for offside, but only after referee Stéphanie Frappart consulted a video replay.
It was a game characterized by minor differences and numerous possibilities. What if Redondo had scored for Spain? What if Frappart had observed that Stefanie van der Gragt had handled the ball during the scramble to clear it? What if González had delayed her run by a fraction of a second? However, it was primarily for the Netherlands.
What if Spain defender Irene Paredes still had to overturn Beerensteyn’s penalty for what appeared to be a straightforward push? Mariona Caldentey converted the lone penalty out of three that should have been or could have been awarded, and the Netherlands could have taken the lead instead of falling behind in a heartbeat’s time.
And what if Beerensteyn had converted any of the three clear-cut chances presented to her as the contest entered its final stages? Van der Gragt atoned for her handball, which resulted in Caldentey’s penalty, by slamming in an equalizer in stoppage time, allowing the Dutch to extend the match at least.
Bernstein had two opportunities to win and keep the Dutch in the tournament, but she could not capitalize.
Parallels were more productive. She took the ball from Jenni Hermoso, shimmied her hip and dropped her shoulder, and exploded into the Dutch penalty area, moving too swiftly and efficiently for the defense, which was straining. She steadied herself and beat van Domselaar with a low, left-footed stroke.
The contest in the Netherlands is over. Spain’s economy may be gaining pace.