Spain became the first nation to book a place in the 2023 Women’s World Cup semi-finals after ousting the Netherlands in a pulsating quarter-final tie at the Wellington Regional Stadium.
Following a 5-1 humbling of Switzerland in the opening knockout round, La Roja came into proceedings in a buoyant mood, looking to break into the tournament’s last four for the first time.
Considered among the leading candidates to take home the trophy this summer, Jorge Vilda’s team took control of the early exchanges and came close to opening the scoring with the first 20 minutes.
Levante forward Alba Redondo evaded her marker to get on the end of Mariona Caldentey’s delightful cross, but her header rattled off the far post.
Despite latching on the rebound inside the six-yard box, Redondo saw his follow-up denied by the post as the first promising chance of the game went begging in the 17th minute.
Spain thought they opened the scoring in the 37th minute before VAR came to the Netherlands’ rescue, finding Esther Gonzalez fractionally offside.
However, VAR helped La Roja break the deadlock in the 81st minute, with French referee Stephanie Frappart pointing to the spot for Stephanie van der Gragt’s handball.
Caldentey made no mistake, putting Spain in front, only to see her effort cancelled out by van der Gragt in the 91st minute as the Inter Milan star redeemed herself with an excelled finish to take the match to extra time.
Unfortunately, her late equaliser was in vain. Salma Paralluelo picked out the far bottom corner with an exquisite left-footed attempt from just inside the box to fire her side into the semi-finals.
Peter Gerhardsson’s ladies entered half-time 1-0 up, courtesy of Amanda Ilestedt’s opener in the 32nd minute, with the Arsenal defender taking advantage of a chaotic situation inside Japan’s penalty area to give Sweden the lead.
Only five minutes into the second half, the Blagult doubled their advantage from the spot as Manchester City midfielder Filippa Angeldal sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to open her tournament account.
Japan had a massive chance to trim Sweden’s lead in the 76th minute, but Riko Ueki failed to convert a penalty.
Futoshi Ikeda’s team found a way past Chelsea stopper Zecira Musovic in the 87th minute through second-half substitute Honoka Hayashi, but it was too little too late.
Sweden and Spain will lock horns in an all-UEFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals at Eden Park on August 15.
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