SOCCER

Daniëlle van de Donk’s searing strike helps the Netherlands sink brave Portugal | Women’s Euro 2022

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Illness and injury tested the resources of the Netherlands at Euro 2022. Portugal tested their resolve to the limit, fighting back from a two-goal deficit for the second game in a row to underline their own progress . However, the holders prevailed and headed for the knockout stage thanks to Daniëlle van de Donk’s superb winner in the second half.

The Dutch overtook Sweden at the top of Group C after a thrilling contest that both exposed their vulnerabilities – they conceded as many goals in two matches as winning the competition in 2017 – and demonstrated their power. “We are a good team but we are trying to become a great team,” manager Mark Parsons said. “There is a lot to improve. It was not acceptable the way we started the second half, but we showed great quality and character to regain the lead. We kept Portugal quiet for the last 20 minutes and it was important for us to finish the game against a team that was fighting for its life.

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Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, Rúben Dias and João Cancelo were among the Portuguese fans hoping to see the lowest-placed team in the final upset the defending champions. It seemed a vain hope when Francisco Neto’s side conceded two early on, as they did against Switzerland, before mounting another impressive comeback. “I’m proud of them and I think every person in Portugal should be proud of this team,” Neto said. “At 2-2 we thought we could beat the European champions. This means women’s football in Portugal is growing.

The Netherlands started slowly and were grateful for an offside that prevented Ana Borges from opening the scoring in her record 146th appearance for Portugal. A lack of pace in the Dutch ranks was understandable. Their absentees included all-time top scorer Vivianne Miedema after testing positive for Covid, midfielder Jackie Groenen, who is also self-isolating, defender Aniek Nouwen with an ankle problem and captain Sari van Veenendaal, their first-choice goalkeeper, who will miss the rest of the tournament with a shoulder injury.

Lineth Beerensteyn replaced Arsenal’s Miedema as the central point of Parsons’ attack and stretched the Portuguese defense with his tireless running, although it was the Netherlands’ height advantage that shaped their lead in the first half. Portugal have repeatedly failed to cope with Sherida Spitse’s corners, no matter how many attempts.

Stefanie van der Gragt doubles the Netherlands lead with a brave header. Photography: Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Damaris Egurrola opened the scoring with a routine header from Spitse’s second corner of the match, his effort sailing past blocked keeper Inês Pereira. On another Spitse corner, the Netherlands doubled their advantage. Stefanie van der Gragt won the initial header and, although Catarina Amado hung on the line, her clearance fell on Lieke Martens whose shot deflected off the centre-back’s path. Van der Gragt converted with a brave diving header that resulted in an accidental kick to the face of Amado, who was sternly booked.

Portugal’s refined technique ensured they were never out of contention. The impressive Andreia Norton served a warning to the Dutch with a defensive pass that sent Diana Silva on goal. The skied finish didn’t match the quality of the pass, but moments later Silva was back and cut inside Dominique Janssen instead of shooting for the first time. The chance seemed to have faded when Silva slipped, but VAR alerted Croatian referee Ivana Martincic to a possible clip on the striker’s heel. A penalty was eventually awarded and Carole Costa sent Daphne van Domselaar the wrong way.

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Less than two minutes after the restart, Portugal equalized. The dangerous Silva met Costa’s cross with an unstoppable header beyond Van Domselaar and the Netherlands stared at the prospect of a disappointing second draw. They reacted impressively. Jill Roord was denied a third after a lengthy VAR review spotted a marginal offside against Beerensteyn. Undeterred, the Netherlands pushed again and Van de Donk claimed victory with an excellent drive from 25 yards that sailed past a desperate Pereira.

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