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Salma Paralluelo Shook The Netherlands Out Of The World Cup

Salma Paralluelo of Spain celebrates after scoring her team's second goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Quarter Final match between Spain and Netherlands at Wellington Regional Stadium on August 11, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Soccer matches are long and arduous affairs, doubly so during knockout tournaments, and infinitely more so during the World Cup. It's hard to distill 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, or 120 minutes and penalties, into one moment. Well, usually that's the case. Other times, a 19-year-old substitute does the hard work for everyone watching, and grabs the spotlight and glory with one simple dip of the shoulder, one touch to set up a chance for immortality, one shot to send her country to the semifinals of the World Cup. On Friday, that 19-year-old was Salma Paralluelo, and thanks to her heroics in extra time, Spain outlasted its own mistakes and also the Netherlands to advance to the final four of this tournament.

Let's look at that one a few more times:

That shoulder drop to Paralluelo's right really did all the work here, tricking fellow sub Aniek Nouwen into thinking the cutback was on before taking the aforementioned stabilizing touch and slotting the ball perfectly off the inside of the post and in. Dutch goalie Daphne van Domselaar, so good throughout this tournament and so good on Friday, could only watch the fatal strike roll by her. This was a beautiful goal, coming from a perfect through ball by Jenni Hermoso, and it helped erased what was almost a debilitating collapse from a place of dominance by the Spaniards.

It's not hard to see when looking at the stats or just having watched the game: Spain dominated this game when it was 0-0. La Roja had over 60 percent of possession for the entirety of the match, outshot the Netherlands 28-10, and created most of the dangerous chances. The rub is that the team simply could not put those chances into the back of the net. Spain even had a rare double doink off the woodwork in the first half, perfectly emblematic of its problems throughout the deadlock.

The Netherlands, for their part, played a similar type of game to the one against the USWNT, only this time, the side faced a team that had the players and tactics to break down the three-defender formation. Spain continuously sent diagonal runs from the outside into the areas between the three Dutch center backs, and those defenders could do nothing about them. Just judging from the quality and quantity of chances it created, Spain could easily have been leading this game comfortably by half, and certainly by the 61st minute.

That minute is key, because it's when Irene Paredes clumsily barged into Lineth Beerensteyn inside Spain's penalty box. At full speed, this looked like a clear penalty, and the referee whistled it as such. But the play went to review, where the referee could see that Paredes's challenge was more of the shoulder-to-shoulder variety than it appeared live. Perhaps more importantly, Paredes did not extend her arm to push Beerensteyn down. This could have still stood as a penalty, but you could also see why the ref decided to overturn the call. At the very least, though, Paredes got off scot-free for a very dumb decision.

Just about 17 minutes later, the same would not be true of Dutch center back Stefanie van der Gragt, who forgot that you can't use your hand to try to stop the ball as if you were an NBA perimeter defender.

A VAR review ruled that Van der Gragt's offending hand was just inside the box, giving Spain an opportunity that even its suddenly goal-shy players couldn't miss. Barcelona's Mariona Caldentey took and converted the penalty, hitting it off the post and in, a strike Paralluelo's winner would echo some time later.

At this point, I was personally offended by the soccer on screen. Spain eased off the throttle and dared the Netherlands to beat them, while the Dutch kept the plan of "blast long balls to Beerensteyn and hope she can score." To the latter team's credit, that plan was at least creating chances that the midfield wasn't against Spain's press. To their demerit, it took until after Spain's goal, when the Spaniards decided the game was won for some reason, for the Dutch to get their breakthrough. That breakthrough came from Van der Gragt of all people, who redeemed her handball by busting an offside line perfectly to get enough space to blast a gorgeous cross-goal shot that sent this match to extra time:

Unfortunately for the Dutch, Beerensteyn was still the only real threat in attack over the extra half-hour of play, and though she kept getting into prime position to try to win it by herself, her aim wasn't sharp enough. It's hard to blame her too much, given how much she ran up and down the field, but whether it was a mental block, tired legs, or just one of those days, the 26-year-old could not find the back of the net. In fact, it was her final chance of the game, a Chris Wondolowski-esque skying of the ball from inside the six-yard box, that led to the goal kick that led to Hermoso's pass that led to Paralluelo dragging Spain kicking and missing into the semis.

Though you could call Spain the deserving winner here, one thing is pretty clear: The team will have to do better in front of goal if it is to realize its goal of lifting the trophy at the end of all this. Profligacy has long been Spain's Achilles heel, at this tournament and beyond, and it's in large part a matter of good fortune that La Roja got away with it again on Friday. Well, good fortune and also a talented player like Salma Paralluelo, who was there when she was most needed, and didn't miss her golden opportunity to drop a shoulder, shake a defender, and blast the Netherlands back home.

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