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Euro 2017

Netherlands complete Cinderella story run with European Championship win

The Netherlands lift their first ever European Championship trophy. (photo courtesy UEFA)

The Netherlands lift their first ever European Championship trophy. (photo courtesy UEFA)

It was a storybook-perfect day at FC Twente Stadion in Enschede, Netherlands as the Dutch women’s national team completed their Cinderella story run of the 2017 European Championship, defeating Denmark, 4-2, to win their first ever continental title. Adding to their improbable championship, the Dutch side did it on home soil, going undefeated in front of record-breaking, sold out crowds of orange all along the way.

Entering today’s final, neither team had allowed more than one goal in a single game, so many fans expected it to be a defense-heavy, low-scoring affair. Adding to that was the first meeting between the two teams during the tournament, a 1-0 group stage win for the Netherlands courtesy of a Sherida Spitse-converted penalty. Four goals in the opening half blew that prediction out of the water, though, as the two teams engaged in a hard-fought back-and-forth.

The Netherlands went down a goal early after Danish midfielder Sanne Troelsgaard was tripped up inside the box by Kika van Es in the contest’s seventh minute. Nadia Nadim calmly walked to the spot and confidently converted the penalty to put Denmark on the board first. But the Danes would enjoy a very short-lived lead as the Dutch were quick to answer after Jackie Groenen played a beautiful pass over to Shanice van de Sanden, playing arguably the best soccer of her life throughout the tournament. Van de Sanden slid a cross past two Danish defenders to Vivianne Miedema, who tapped in her third goal in as many knockout-stage matches to equalize.

The game settled down a bit after the opening 10 minutes but not for long, as the Netherlands took their first lead of the game before the half-hour mark through Lieke Martens, who cut back into space and split the Danish defense with a left-footed shot from the top of the arc. Denmark answered five minutes later when Captain Denmark, Pernille Harder, made a run down her right flank before cutting inside, beating her defender just long enough to fire off a left-footed shot that left Sari van Veenendaal standing stunned on her line, unable to even attempt the save.

Harder’s goal was the last of the first half, and the game was tied at two apiece as the teams entered the locker rooms. As the scoreline indicated, the opening 45 minutes was evenly matched, but the final 45 would see the Dutch attack outlast a weakened Danish defense, scoring two unanswered second-half goals to secure the title.

The first of those goals came in the 52nd minute when Troelsgaard gave up a free kick in a dangerous position after fouling Martens just outside of the 18. Spitse, who had two goals from the spot under her belt, took the kick after Danielle van de Donk ran over it and tricked goalkeeper Stina Lykke Petersen into taking a step to the left. That allowed Spitse to put a low shot through a courteous gap between the five-player wall and Maja Kildemoes and into the right bottom corner to retake the lead for the Netherlands.

Denmark was unhappy to once again relinquish the lead and retook the momentum as they began battling to pull back even with the hosts. They were unable to do so though, as too often players passed instead of shooting when presented with opportunities or the post interrupted their attempts at an equalizer. Troelsgaard had a prime opportunity to level the score in the final five minutes of regulation, but the ball had a bend on it that curled it just wide of the near post at the very last second.

The Danish defense, already looking sluggish as the game neared its end, became even weaker after center back Simone Boye Sorensen exited the field following a knee injury sustained during a collision, forcing Nils Nielsen to switch to a three back in the game’s final minutes. The Netherlands capitalized on that lack of defensive pressure, securing the win in the final minute of the game when Spitse chipped the field with a ball to Miedema, who dribbled the ball closer to goal, cut past her mark, and put a shot past the outstretched foot of Cecilie Sandvej and out of Lykke Petersen’s reach for the final goal of the championship match.

With the win, the Netherlands become just the fourth team to win the Women’s European Championship and the first team other than Germany to lift the trophy in more than two decades. Although Miedema scored a brace, Sherida Spitse was named Woman of the Match while Lieke Martens was named the Player of the Tournament, scoring three goals and tallying two assists to help keep the Netherlands perfect in their first-ever championship run.

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