Salma Paralluelo may not have chosen soccer. It was not her solely choice, definitely. A 19-year-old Spain striker, Paralluelo was a shiny prospect in observe and subject, too, such a gifted runner that she may even have represented her nation on the Tokyo Olympics two years in the past. Her chosen self-discipline was the 400 meters. She nonetheless holds the nationwide under-20 file on the distance.
She can be, it seems, simply the individual her nation wanted on the finish of a marathon.
Spain’s assembly with the Netherlands on Friday within the quarterfinals of this Girls’s World Cup was at all times prone to be shut. As Spain’s draining, slender, 2-1 victory proved, shut might have been an understatement. There’s barely a hair’s breadth between these groups: the Spanish, Europe’s nice power-in-waiting, and the Dutch, famed for his or her expertise however noteworthy for his or her resilience.
4 years in the past, that combination was sufficient to hold the Netherlands to the World Cup closing towards the US. This 12 months, it was beginning to look as if a repeat journey could be within the playing cards. Andries Jonker’s crew had superior from the group part in a method extra spectacular than spectacular. It had completed, most importantly, forward of the US. Because of the reflexes and focus of Daphne van Domselaar, its goalkeeper, it had held South Africa at bay within the spherical of 16.
The Netherlands may need been lacking its leading edge — the star striker Vivianne Miedema is one of many many gamers absent from this World Cup due to a critical knee harm — but it surely had discovered a option to make up for that by dulling everybody else’s. The squad’s confidence was rising sufficiently that ahead Lineth Beerensteyn might even afford to take a bit of swipe at the US crew when she met with reporters earlier than the sport. There had, Beerensteyn stated, been an excessive amount of speak from the Individuals, who misplaced to Sweden within the spherical of 16. “It’s a must to do it on the pitch,” she stated.
For some time, it appeared as if she could be good to her phrase. Within the shiny winter sunshine of Wellington, New Zealand, Spain dominated possession, as a result of Spain at all times dominates possession. Spain created possibilities, too, as a result of Spain at all times creates possibilities.
Nevertheless it couldn’t breach the Dutch. Every time it picked its approach by means of the massed ranks of the protection, Spain discovered van Domselaar, as indomitable as ever, repelling no matter it might muster.
And when van Domselaar was overwhelmed, Spain discovered that the bodily infrastructure of the stadium was selecting sides: Halfway by means of the primary half, Alba Redondo hit the publish twice in a matter of seconds. A couple of minutes later, Esther González had a objective dominated out for offside, although solely after the referee, Stéphanie Frappart, had consulted a video replay.
It was that type of recreation: certainly one of slender variations and appreciable what-ifs. For Spain — what if Redondo had scored, or if Frappart had seen that Stefanie van der Gragt had dealt with the ball within the scramble to clear it; or if González had delayed her run a fraction of a second? However, greater than something, it was for the Netherlands.
What if the penalty gained by Beerensteyn for what appeared a transparent push from Spain defender Irene Paredes had not been overturned? The Netherlands may need led, slightly than discovering itself, barely a heartbeat later, falling behind after Mariona Caldentey transformed the one penalty of three that ought to, or might, have been awarded.
And what if Beerensteyn had scored any one of many three clear-cut alternatives that fell her approach as the sport entered its dying embers? The Dutch had not less than taken the sport the gap, van der Gragt salving her conscience after her hand ball led to Caldentey’s penalty by unceremoniously drilling residence an equalizing objective as the sport ticked into harm time.
Beerensteyn twice may need gained it, may need stored the Dutch within the match, however she might convert neither probability.
Paralluelo was extra environment friendly. She picked up the ball from Jenni Hermoso, shimmied her hip and dropped her shoulder and burst clear into the Dutch penalty space, shifting too shortly and too simply for the straining Dutch protection. She steadied herself and swept a shot, low and left-footed, previous van Domselaar.
The Netherlands’ race is run. Spain’s may simply be choosing up pace.