In a span of 1:45 minutes Spain jumped to a 0-2 lead with the usual great centre goal by Maica Garcia and a fine action shot by Elena Ruiz – and that made a long-lasting impact, at least to the rest of the first half. Both teams missed a woman-up in the following phase before Simone van de Kraats put the Dutch on the scoreboard after 5:12 minutes. The Spanish centres went on delivering, next came a penalty, Beatriz Ortiz buried it but Nina ten Broek hit a nice one from action for 2-3.
Still, after killing a woman-down, Spain earned another penalty, Ruiz made no mistake – and the Dutch started playing with even more tensions. In the next five minutes they were unable to score from two man-ups, in between they had problems to set up the centres or to make their lethal perimeter shots. Later two huge saves from Laura Aarts kept them close but she couldn’t do much when Ruiz came one on-one in the next counter, the lob put Spain 2-5 up. It could have been +4 but the Dutch defended brilliantly in a woman-up, got a 6 on 5 with 10 seconds to go, called a time-out and Sabrine van der Sloot needed only seven to pull one back for 3-5.
This was a psyche-lifting finish, and the Dutch came back fresh and with a positive mindset after the three-minute break, and most importantly their defence managed to neutralise the Spanish centre forwards for most of the time. When they needed to face a woman-down, they moved quite well, denied two in this period, and when they had 6 on 5s, they put both away. It happened midway through the third, in 1:30 minutes, there was no way to stop Brigitte Sleeking’s blasts. All of sudden it was 5-5 – but the Spaniards reacted well, and in a long possession, after two saved shots, Ruiz managed to beat Aarts with a brilliant one-timer, it was her fourth in the game.
Whatever happened in the third, the fourth offered the same pattern we had seen in the first half – though one may have got used to that in the women’s game you should expect the unexpected. The Dutch were unable to maintain their high-level defence and their offensive level also dropped a bit unexpectedly. Paula Leiton got a fine pass in the first extra on the 2m line, from there it was easy, then Sleeking was blocked in the Dutch woman-up and in a minute Pili Pena’s left-handed shot hit the back of the net as the defenders let her way too close and the blocking hands didn’t cover the goal enough. Vivian Sevenich pulled one back with 4:58 to go for 6-8, then both sides missed a man-up apiece – it was more painful for the Dutch in the given situation. Especially because Anni Espar managed to sneak away and finished off the counter for 6-9 – with 3:45 on the clock, it seemed to be decisive. It was, indeed – and soon four separated the two sides when Ortiz netted an extra. Even though Sleeking’s next shot hit the back of the net in a 6 on 5, the Dutch couldn’t score any more in the remaining 2:38 minutes.
Evangelos Doudesis, coach, Netherlands
“We didn’t pace our game properly in the first half, we didn’t find the right rhythm, we rather followed the Spanish game, their style dominated, we just chased them. If we looked nervous, that is hundred per cent my fault, it’s the coach’s job to prepare the players for any kind of situation. In the third we did better, but in the fourth period we let them have counters, had turnovers, which means that we didn’t have the proper mindset to keep the game under control. This was a tough lesson, but we’ll learn from it and we’ll be back even stronger.”
Miki Oca, coach, Spain
“The girls did a fantastic job. We had a plan and they did everything, really, everything. They defended extremely well, which is not easy against Netherlands, as they have fantastic shooters, they are strong but our defence worked really well. In the third the Netherlands came back but this how sport works, sometimes it comes in your way, sometimes not – at the end we could regain the control, again, the girls did almost everything perfectly.”
Sabrina van den Sloot, captain, Netherlands
“I think we started the match poorly. Then somewhere in the second and third quarter we had a feeling that we could control the match. Then in beginning of the last quarter we conceed a couple of fast goals from their counter-attacks, and then the gap was just too big for us to come back. At this point there was too little time for that. Nevertheless, for us it would be very important to win the bronze medal and close the Championships with a win. Still, it is not that bad to lose to Spain if you know you gave your best. I think it will help us to grow as a team for the future events, with Paris 2024 on the horizon. I was in Belgrade in 2016, this is not my first experience of playing in an arena, but it’s a shame that there aren’t that many people on the stands, especially for the women’s matches. I think the level of the game is very high and I think we deserve the same attention as the men.”
Elena Ruiz, player, Spain
“We knew the Netherlands would be a very tough opponent, and it was. It was a very tough game today. We played focused in our defence, and when the defence works, the victory is so much easier. And it is what happened. We did a great job in defence, so the attack and the counter-attack also worked very well. We worked a lot to be here, at the end of a very long season. So now it is time to be ready for the final.”
Paula Leiton, player, Spain
“The final is going to be so hard, tough game for sure. But we know how this kind of European finals are to be played and we have to be ready and we will do our best to get the gold. Our coach knows how to prepare us for the finals, we need to be focused on and be in a perfect shape. Our strength and our intensity depends on our physical conditions. We worked so hard for that and we are ready for the final.”