In the sunlit ambiance of Wellington, New Zealand, a battle of wills played out as Spain clashed with the Netherlands for a place in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals. At the heart of it was Salma Paralluelo, the 19-year-old who could’ve been sprinting for Spain but chose football instead. In the end, it was her precision strike in the 111th minute that made all the difference.
Salma Paralluelo: From Track to Pitch
Paralluelo, holding the national under-20 record for the 400 meters, traded the track for the football pitch, a decision Spain will forever cherish. She demonstrated her prowess when, deep into extra time, she gathered a pass from Jenni Hermoso, sidestepped a defender, and coolly netted a low, left-footed shot past the ever-solid Dutch keeper, Daphne van Domselaar. The goal not only propelled Spain into the semi-finals but also marked her as Spain’s youngest scorer at a Women’s World Cup.
Her elation was palpable. “It means everything for me, it was a unique moment, great euphoria… I’m extremely happy,” Paralluelo exclaimed.
VAR Drama Takes Center Stage
But this quarter-final was not solely the Salma show. Throughout the game, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) played a decisive role, invoking moments of joy, despair, and controversy for both teams. Spain’s Esther Gonzalez’s goal was ruled out after a VAR check, while the Dutch felt aggrieved when a penalty call in their favor was overturned. The technology again came to the fore, declaring a handball by Dutch veteran Stefanie van der Gragt, leading to Mariona Caldentey converting an 80th-minute penalty.
The Dutch manager, Andries Jonker, voiced his feelings, “VAR did not do its work properly, but Spain deserved to win.”
Dutch Resilience and the Van der Gragt Saga
The Dutch showed resilience typical of a team that had reached the finals in the previous World Cup. Van der Gragt, whose handball granted Spain their penalty, found redemption when she scored a stoppage-time equalizer, bringing hope to the Netherlands’ camp.
Earning her 106th cap, Van der Gragt showcased a fighter’s spirit. “It’s hard now,” she acknowledged, “We had the chance in extra time and we didn’t score, they had one chance and they scored. That’s football.”
What Lies Ahead
Spain’s victory has been monumental, marking their first major semi-final appearance since the 1997 European Championships. The jubilant coach, Jorge Vilda, lauded his team, stating, “They played on an extraordinary level, all the players, and it was a match with a lot of emotional decisions, and the goal from Salma, it was sheer joy.”
As Spain looks ahead, the Netherlands ponders on the missed opportunities. A saddened Jonker admitted, “The disappointment is major… I am very proud of this team, in one year we have got back in there [among the world’s best teams]. Tough to swallow but we are back on the map.”
In this tale of passion, precision, and perseverance, Spain emerges with newfound hope while the Dutch look to rebuild and return even stronger.
Meta: Salma Paralluelo, once a track and field prospect, shone as Spain’s youngest scorer in the Women’s World Cup, leading the team into the semifinals.