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XI memorable moments from Euro 2017

The 2017 European Championship was the most watched UEFA women’s tournament in history. Here’s 11 reasons why this tournament was one for the ages. 

Shanice van de Sanden listens to the cheers of the Dutch fans during EURO 2017. (photo courtesy of UEFA)

1. Shanice van de Sanden’s opening goal

All eyes were on the hosts when they stepped onto the field in Utrecht for the opening fixture of the EUROs three weeks ago – and they did not disappoint. It’s always hard to judge the host nation going into a major tournament, because they don’t play any competitive matches for two years. But Shanice van de Sanden’s header in the second half against Norway set the tone for a wonderful journey for the Dutch, and had the result gone the other way, who knows what might have happened.

2. Norway go home pointless

The Norwegians were seen by many as the dark horses for the European Championships, with the BBC World Player of the Year Ada Hegerberg leading the line and a wealth of talent for coach Martin Sjogren to select from. Those who predicted Norway would be able to go one better than 2013 and win the tournament could not have been more wrong. They crashed out of the tournament after finishing bottom of Group A with no points and no goals – the only team to exit with that record. Sjogren’s job would appear to be safe for now, but sadly, people will remember Norway for all the wrong reasons.

3. The penalty that was, then wasn’t

One of the more bizarre incidents in the tournament saw Spain awarded a penalty against England after a handball against Ellen White. The England forward got a body in an awkward position after slipping on the wet surface, inadvertently handling the ball in the process. Referee Carina Vitulano awarded a penalty for the error, but after pleas from some England players, including defender Lucy Bronze reciting the rules on accidental handball, Vitulano reversed her decision and admitted she had been too quick to make the call. Rarely, if ever, do you see a referee reverse a decision like this and admit she was wrong – especially in a major tournament.

4. Austria’s run to the semi-final

Nobody, not even the most optimistic of Austrian fans, would have expected their team team to perform as well as they did in reaching the last four of the competition. They topped a group undefeated that included France, Switzerland and Iceland, and they did it with incredible discipline and organisation.

Tournaments always unearth stars and thrust them into the spotlight, and few were better than midfielder Laura Feiresinger. The SC Sand midfielder, along with defender Verena Aschauer and forward Nina Burger, was outstanding and never stopped running throughout the tournament.

Goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger was also impressive in helping Austria keep multiple clean sheets and was probably unlucky not to be keeper of the tournament. But Austria can be proud of their efforts in overcoming four sides ranked above them in the world and only losing out on penalties in the semifinal (more on that later). Plus, who can forget those celebrations in the media mixed zone!

5. Sweden 2-3 Italy

It would be easy to forget a game that featured a team that was knocked out in the group stages and another a round later. But Sweden against Italy was by far the most fun game of the first round, with the topsy-turvy encounter seeing a brilliant Italy overdone a disappointing Sweden.

The game also saw a wonderful strike from Azzurri forward Daniela Sabatino and some wonderful wing play from Barbara Bonansea, who was one of the players of the first round. As much as anything, the game once again highlighted how open and competitive this tournament was, with the unfancied Italians, so poor in their opening game against Russia, beating Sweden who had manage to hold Germany to a draw in theirs. The game was end to end, both brilliant and poor in periods, but a lot of fun to watch.

6. England end their hoodoo against France

Jodie Taylor celebrates scoring the game winner against France.
(photo courtesy UEFA)

When you wait 43 years for your first win over a major rival, it’s always going to be a huge relief when that monkey on your back is finally removed.

England had never beaten France in a competitive fixture and had failed to taste victory since 1974, so when Jodie Taylor raced through in the second half of their quarterfinal to score, all of a sudden English finger nails were being chewed in anticipation. Mark Sampson’s side were able to hold on and claim a famous victory that will finally bring to an end questions as to why England struggle so badly against the French.

As for France and their coach Olivier Echouafni, they never got going in the tournament, and they will now have to move forward without the wonderfully gifted Camille Abily, who retired from the national team after their elimination.

7. Germany’s run ended / postponed match

Like every women’s European Championship for the past 20 years, Germany understandably started as favorites for EURO 2017, having won every competition since 1993. But there was very much a feeling of ‘perhaps this won’t be their year,’ after they limped through their group in unconvincing fashion before coming up against Denmark.

The fact the Danes had managed to come out of the toughest group with just one goal conceded likely gave them a huge amount of confidence, and with Pernille Harder and Nadia Nadim leading the line, there is always a chance of overcoming the odds. In short, Denmark were outstanding and they could have added more in the victory.

Of course, the match will also be remembered for taking place a day after its scheduled date due to a huge downpour of rain, which resulted in one volunteer falling on their backside when kicking a ball on the soaking field to try and impress German coach, Steffi Jones.

8. Austria penalty miss

Having overcome Spain in their quarterfinal on penalties, Austria had already exceeded expectation by reaching the last four. The team will have hoped that their  penalty practice against Spain would come in handy when they were awarded a spot kick against Denmark in their semifinal with the score at 0-0.

If converted, with their organisation and ability to drop deep and frustrate their opposition, there is every chance they will have gone onto win and meet the Netherlands in the final. But the miss inevitably meant extra time and penalties, and following on from the PK miss in normal time, the Austrians were unable to convert any of their kicks in the shootout – going down to a 3-0 loss.

Had that earlier spot kick gone in, oh how different things could have been.

9. Nadia Nadim scores in the final

Few stories created are more emotional than that of Denmark’s Nadia Nadim. Having fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and settled in Denmark, the Portland Thorns forward continues to create new chapters in what will surely be an intriguing memoir – and the EUROs chapter itself will be special.

Having scored in the win over Germany, Nadim took the field in Sunday’s final against the Netherlands in a role that she has had her entire life – the underdog. When Denmark were awarded a penalty in the first half, some may have expected captain Pernille Harder to take responsibility. But Nadim showed why she has reached the heights she has, as she coolly slotted home the PK, to give her side the lead.

Sadly, this chapter didn’t end the way some will have wanted it to. But there are plenty more to be written in the career of Nadia Nadim.

10. Lieke Martens

There’s nothing more to say here. She was Player of the Tournament and was outstanding in every match she played. She doesn’t have the pace that makes fellow wide player Shanice van de Sanden stand out, but boy does she have technique, close control, and two good feet. She was worthy of the attention she received throughout the tournament, and there are not enough superlatives to describe how influential she was for her team. She scored a critical goal for her side to put them ahead in the first half of the final, and she is sure to be a major asset for new club FC Barcelona.

11. The fans

Records were broken all over the place during this European Championships, with over 240,000 people attending games across the tournament, compared with 216,000 in 2013 – a new record. The Dutch sold out every one of their fixtures, which included almost 30,000 spectators at both their semi-final and final, while around 9,000 turned out for Sweden v Germany in the group stages – the biggest attendance for a game not involving the hosts at any EUROs.

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