Brentford, England – After a frustrating 89 minutes in north London with a place in the Euro 2022 knockout stage on the streak, Spain emerged victorious thanks to Marta Cardona’s final header and sent Denmark home early.
What a difference five years makes. At Euro 2017, Spain caught up early, unable to break through the Austria defense after 120 minutes of football in the quarter-finals, while, on the contrary, Denmark exceeded all expectations and reached the final. Fast-forward, and with Euro 2022 entering, Denmark was expected to be the bubble team in Group B – the tournament’s group of death – with Spain strongly selected to go to England.
Germany, of course, has other ideas. First, the Germans sent Denmark to Brentford in the opening match of the second set before returning to the same ground to lose to Spain, leaving the battle for the group runner-up battle at the same court where they both lost. Joy for either nation so far in Brentford, so it continued with neither of them being able to even stir up some luck.
“We knew this was the group of death,” Denmark coach Lars Sondergaard said afterwards. “Unfortunately, we are the ones who died.”
Usually expected to sit back and allow Spain to get the ball, Denmark had other ideas during the first half with a win necessary to advance, and they routinely served the ball long for captain Bernel Harder. Although the enigmatic striker managed to create a handful of good chances, the Danish misery at Brentford continued with her teammates unable to challenge Sandra Banus against Spain.
Spain, who only needed a draw to reach the knockout stages, looked irritated and unhappy with Harder’s rickety passes and the Denmark side’s frustrating defensive work. Even with Spanish coach Jorge Velda choosing to switch the winning squad, introducing a more attacking and individual team, there was no early breakthrough for the two favorites ahead of the tournament.
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When Athena del Castillo fell in the penalty area under challenge, the 17,250-capacity stadium erupted in fury – even if replays showed the defender got the ball – and the partisan crowd frustrated as the match went on. The fans reflected Spain, who chased after the opening goal as if they needed it to survive in the tournament. After frustration grew, the first card of the night was handed to Leila Wahby for kicking the ball away in annoyance.
On the sidelines, Vilda threw his arms open, fervently waving his team to move forward, and the illustration he drew contrasts sharply with Søndergaard, the manager who occupies the opposite technical area. The Dane was more conservative in his dugout, his gestures were smaller, urging his team to stay together and applaud calmly for their better defensive efforts.
Desperately searching for a winner, Vilda went to the bench in the first half, trying to add more offensive cracks to his team, after the coach was criticized for his lack of substitutes in the loss to Germany. The changes, coupled with the tournament’s natural fatigue, have forced Denmark to sit deeper and give Spain more freedom in half, with only Danes suffering from Spain using the show more and more.
There was a feeling during the first half – after Denmark rejected a string of good chances to take the lead – that they would leave Brentford empty-handed, unable to crawl out of the death set. It inspired Spain in their best attacking streak before the break and only continued after the start of the second half, with Denmark being able to relieve less pressure and repeatedly serve long balls over the top.
Of course, the way the match was played La Ruga Desperate for a goal, it was no indication of group standings and Søndergaard had no choice but to bring in offensive reinforcements. His substitutions almost paid off when Nadia Nadim teamed up with Harder, as her extended shot saved Nader from Banos.
Tensions in London escalated to another level, as Danish fans found their voice as their Spanish counterparts whistled and whistled for more referee, Rebecca Welch. England sat waiting in the next round for one of the two teams, neither of them managed to score a goal in 179 minutes of football at Brentford. The night’s biggest cheer, which was heard after Stein Larsen was given a yellow card, waned almost immediately when substitute Marta Cardona left free inside the penalty area to whip Olga Carmona’s ball past Len Christensen.
“I think it’s something we have to improve – I think we have a lot of ball but we have to score more goals,” Spain’s Aitana Ponmate said afterwards. “We know that and we will improve on that in the next game because I think it will be more difficult than this.”
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That was decided just before the injury time was announced, and it was to be Spain, touted as the favorite before Barcelona were knocked out of the field in the 2020-21 Champions League final, which will face England in Brighton. It was to be the team that, despite its quality, breathes and struggles for two games in London. A team that, when not playing at the bottom of the group, Finland, failed to harness the team’s sheer offensive prowess.
It was Spain that routinely failed to find an adequate answer when asked simple questions. The would-be champions were stuck doing what they didn’t do frequently in the major tournaments and eventually found a solution. The goal was as much a relief for the pressure on the team as it was the fans, even if a goalless draw would have sufficed. La Ruga to go forward.
“It’s motivating,” Ponmate said of facing England – the best team in the tournament so far – in the quarter-finals. “I’m not afraid.” “I think my teammates are not afraid either, we’re excited. … We were talking, if we go to the quarter-finals, we’ll play against England, that’s motivating. We played against them in the ACC. [Arnold Clark Cup]We know they are a good team, they put in a lot of good performances, we watched their three games in the group and they did it very well, but we think we can beat them. But we have to improve our technique and be better than today.”
There is no better time for the team to start, to build on its result born of sheer determination and a style of football that Vilda was so reticent to harness, the team is only improving with the diversity he brought rather than simply relying on Barcelona’s players to make the difference.
However, the challenges will be tough and fast for Spain, who will now face hosts England, a country that has had all things its own way this summer and which will be spurred by a strong South Coast crowd, in the same stadium where they made European Championship history with their 8-0 victory over Norway. .
Questions remain for Spain – not only about whether they can finally win a knockout match in a major tournament, but if the coach will finally accept the team’s need to play in a different way that allows attack-minded players from the flourishing of Real Madrid and Real Sociedad. Either way, England awaits.