And it's back to Wellington for the first Quarterfinal match!
Careful planning when last in Wellington meant that I arrived the day before the game and did a night tour at Zealandia with Mark Moir. And my New Zealand adventure is complete having now seen a Kiwi in real life (the bird, not the residents of New Zealand). They are every bit as cute and awkward as they are depicted and it was genuinely exciting to tramp around at night and peak in bushes to see the kiwi doing his thing (and yes, the one we saw was a he). We were also treated to a nice clear view as he waddled across our path (so, why does the Kiwi cross the path?).
The Dutch had a good first round, tying the US, beating Portugal 1-0, and trouncing Vietnam soundly. Spain had a bit of a rougher first round: they accumulated a bunch of goals against Zambia and Costa Rica and then were soundly beaten 4-0 by Japan. I was cheering for Spain, in large part due to their amazing footwork and fast-paced play. The Netherlands seem well-disciplined and skilled, but much less artful and creative.
We were seated in one of the cold corners of the field. You may recall from the USA/Netherlands match that the stadium in Wellington can boast multiple climate zones during the same game. Last time, we were in the sunny zone; this time we were most definitely in the cold zone, but at least it was dry and not terribly windy.
It was a match for the ages. The Dutch were bigger and more physical, and the ref let play progress uninterrupted for the most part. The crowd was largely Dutch (based on the orange hue throughout the stadium and the bit of a cheering contest the local TV personalities encouraged before the game). But there was no booing and there was universal appreciation for good soccer. And there was a lot of good soccer!
It was an end to end match with Spain dominating in possession, but the Dutch making the most of absolutely every opportunity presented to them. However, the Spanish defense was a thing of beauty, and they were quite successful keeping the Dutch away from any shooting opportunities. In contrast, the Spaniards made sure that the Dutch goalkeeper did not get chilly.
Spain took control of the game both maintaining possession and pushing forward on breathtaking attacks. The Dutch counterattacks looked threatening, but they were not able to create a single on-target shot! In the 38th minute, Redonda found Gonzalez who drilled the ball into the net. Unfortunately, our friendly VAR detected that Gonzalez was offsides and the it became the goal that wasn't. The Dutch players and fans breathed a synchronized sigh of relief and the Spaniards went back to work. But, at halftime, the score remained 0-0.
Spain wastes no time and setting the tone for the second half: in the opening fifteen seconds, Gonzalez sends a shot a hair's width outside the goal. Beerensteyn, the speedy Dutch forward continues to test the Spanish defense. She is blazingly fast and agile; she constantly gives the Spanish back line a run for their money, and in minute 63, it appears that Paredes commited a foul against her in the box. This time, the trusty VAR reveals that, in fact, perhaps there was no foul, and the Dutch are no longer on the cusp of a potential 1-0 lead.
And then, in a cruel twist of fate, in the 79th minute, the VAR shows reveals a Van de Gragt did, in fact, have handball in the box. Penalty! Caldenty places the ball perfectly in the lower right corner and it's Spain 1-0!
The clock ticks up to 90 and the game moves into 12 minutes of extra time. Spain is still leading and the Dutch effort does seem a biut frantic, but twelve minutes is an eternity in soccer! And it did not take an eternity: two minutes into extra time, Van de Gragt makes up for the earlier handball with a brilliant goal that seemed to come out of the middle of nowhere!. It's a 1-1 game!
Perhaps Spain had let up just a bit, and that's all it took to push this game into overtime. This lifesaver sends the Dutch into the first overtime period flying and Spain looking a bit flat. However, a couple of near-misses by the Dutch trigger the adrenaline rush and Spain are back at it. The first overtime period ends at 1-1 and you can feel the PK dread spreading around the stadium.
In the opening minutes of the second overtime, Beerensteyn threatens, but her shot goes just a tad wide. Spain really has dominated this game, but they have not been able to put the ball in the net from the run of play; does this mean we are destined for a shootout? Fortunately not! Substitute Paralluelo single-handedly carries the ball about half a field and sends a blazing shot into the far side of the net. Spain 2-1! And there are only nine (official) minutes left in the match.
And the rest is history: for eleven more minutes, it's an end to end frenzy for the Dutch and an end-to-end relentless push and defend from Spain. Final: Spain 2 - Netherlands 1! What a game!!!