A late penalty gives embattled Spain a 3-2 win over the world’s number one-ranked team, Sweden, in their Nations League Group A game on Friday.
Mariona Caldentey struck from the spot deep into second-half stoppage time to give the Spanish a boost after a week blighted by uncertainty caused by the continued fall-out from their World Cup win. The Spaniards are still trying to find a new identity after losing their star players and enduring a sexism scandal involving former national federation president Luis Rubiales kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips at a ceremony last month.
The match had been poised at 1-1 before the penalty. A ball was played into the box towards Lineth Beerensteyn, who was shoved from behind by Irene Paredes, a foul that referee Stephanie Frappart initially awarded but later overturned after a review ruled that there had not been contact with the defender’s hand. But the Dutch could not hold on for long as substitute Salma Paralluelo ran through from the left, swiveled past one defender, and sent a beautiful left-foot shot across the face of goalkeeper Daphne Van der Gragt to put Spain back in front.
After the break, Spain continued to dominate but without creating many clear-cut chances. But the game turned in their favor as they began to rack up more shots on target than their Swedish opponents. And in the 81st minute, they took the lead with a goal that was as beautiful as unexpected. Jennie Hermosa played a ball down the left; Paralluelo beat her defender to it and sliced her finish into the far corner of the net.
Spain coach Jorge Vilda looked on the verge of tears as he walked off the pitch to applause from the crowd at the Ullevi stadium. The victory was a relief after a turbulent week that included threats of a boycott and late-night meetings to ensure that the team would be able to field a side.
It also means the world champions will play England or Australia in Sunday’s semifinals. But right now, they are soaking up the moment and reclaiming the idea that they can be great again.
Spain is the first team to win all their group games and will top the table when the final matches are played on Monday. Sweden and Germany are tied for second place with two wins each. The United States is fourth with a single victory, while Japan is fifth. All five teams will meet again in the same venue next year to determine the final ranking.