Spain reached the FIFA Women’s World Cup semifinals for the first time after edging the Netherlands 2-1 in a thriller on Friday, while third-ranked Sweden outlasted former champions Japan with a tense 2-1 win.
Sixth-ranked Spain will next face Sweden in a mouth-watering final four clash on Tuesday in Auckland. Japan’s elimination means a first-time World Cup champion will be crowned at the tournament.
Playing in their first quarterfinal, Spain showed no signs of nerves and overcame ninth-ranked Netherlands with teenager Salma Paralluelo scoring an extra-time winner in Wellington, a Xinhua report said.
“It’s a great day for Spanish women’s football. We’ve reached somewhere we’ve never reached before, and done it playing a good game as well, with a team that is convinced that we can go even further,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said.
“The goal from Salma, it was sheer joy. We had to wait for a few minutes to get the result of the whistle in the end, and I’m extremely happy,” he added.
In a see-saw of a contest, Paralluelo produced a brilliant solo goal in the 111th minute to down the Netherlands and the result also signalled the end of defender Stefanie van der Gragt’s career.
The 30-year-old endured an emotionally draining swansong having conceded an 81st minute penalty for a handball with Spain’s Mariona Caldentey breaking the deadlock.
But van der Gragt equalized in the dying minutes to force extra time before the Netherlands ultimately fell short.
“We had the chance in extra time and we didn’t score, they had one chance and they scored. That’s football,” said van der Gragt, who was part of Netherlands’ runner-up finish in 2019.
“I have to be proud of myself and the team.”
In the later game, Sweden reached their fifth World Cup semifinal after surviving a late onslaught from 2011 champions Japan in Auckland.
After goals to Amanda Ilestedt and Filippa Angeldal either side of the interval, Japan appeared headed for a tame exit and they couldn’t peg a goal back with Riko Ueki missing a penalty in the 76th minute.
But Japan’s hopes were revived when substitute Honoka Hayashi scored from close range in the 87th minute. Japan aggressively pushed for an equalizer, but missed several opportunities as a nervous Sweden hung on. Sweden celebrated with gusto, but they were made to work hard after having a stranglehold.
Both teams had conceded just one goal from their first four games and a defensive style ensued in the early exchanges.
Sweden drew first blood in the 32nd minute when Ilestedt scored her fourth goal of the tournament — one behind Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa in the overall tally.
Japan lacked potency and did not have a goal on target in the first-half. They were in a hole when Angeldahl converted a penalty in the 51st minute before clawing back into the contest.
But Sweden defied Japan’s final surge to reach another semi-final.
The remaining quarterfinals will be played on Saturday when co-host Australia face France in Brisbane, while England battle Colombia in Sydney.
Press Release, Source: IANS