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UEFA Women’s Nations League: A dichotomy of joy and heartbreak

With seconds to go, Damaris Egurrola shattered England’s (and Team GB) hopes of featuring at the Olympics next year.

Holland Women v Belgium Women -UEFA Womens Nations League Photo by Roy Lazet/Soccrates/Getty Images

Football has always been a game of highs and lows, sometimes within a span of one 90-minute period. On Tuesday, the difference between absolute euphoria and crushing defeat only lasted a few minutes at best.

England and the Netherlands went into their final group games in the UEFA Women’s Nations League knowing that the result of either game would determine who would miss out on the Paris Olympics, and who still had a shot to qualify.

England needed to score at least two goals more than what the Netherlands would achieve against Belgium to make it to the ‘Final 4’ while the Dutch just had to keep scoring, no matter what the outcome was. England had it all to do, and despite the controversy surrounding their match up against Scotland, they knew they couldn’t afford any mistakes. They had to step on the gas and give no quarter to make sure they finished top of the group.

For at least 80 minutes, England’s goal had been met. They were up by five goals against Scotland while the Dutch were only up by two goals against Belgium. If the result stayed as it was, England would be through to the knock out stage and the Netherlands would miss out on the chance to qualify for the Olympics. Lauren James had starred for England, playing a pivotal role in almost all of their goals and all she and her teammates had to do was see out the game against Scotland and hope that the Netherlands couldn’t find the back of the net again.

Scotland v England - UEFA Womens Nations League Photo by Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

That’s when the drama truly, truly began.

As stoppage time ticked on for both England and the Netherlands, Damaris Egurrola stepped up to nod home the Netherlands’ third goal of the day. Egurrola wasn’t meant to play such a key role in the game against Belgium but an injury to Jackie Groenen saw her step into that holding midfield role. Egurrola did the dirty work required of a No. 6 but also drove forward to score a massive goal in the 91st minute of the game.

While the Dutch were celebrating, Lucy Bronze notched a sixth for England. The team erupted in celebration but they, at that point, didn’t know just how crucial Bronze’s goal could turn out to be. They continued to play on, looking to see out the 6-0 scoreline and as far as they knew, that would be enough to make the finals of the Nations League.

With the entire team gathered in a circle, England kept an eye of the waning moments in the Koning Willem II Stadion, desperately begging for Belgium to hold on and not let their opponents score one more goal. There were smiles being shared amongst the group but you could still see the tension behind many of the players’ faces. This was it for them. Either the Netherlands would score, and thus keep Team GB out of the Olympics, or the final whistle would blow with the score still being 3-0 and thus, knock the Netherlands out of Olympic qualification.

Scotland v England - UEFA Womens Nations League Photo by Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

The clock ticked away in Tilburg and the Dutch pushed almost every player forward, trying everything they can to find that last goal that would keep their Olympic hopes alive. They were aware of how the match between England and Scotland had ended and they knew the ramifications of that scoreline for them. It was a do-or-die moments for those in orange, and the crowd roared them on in full voice.

Once again, Damaris Egurrola was the woman of the moment.

In April last year, Egurrola had scored a brace against South Africa and then proceeded to tell everyone that they should “savour the moment” as it wouldn’t happen again. Not even she could’ve imagined just how wrong she was and how her next brace would come about.

A ball out to Romée Leuchter with Belgium sitting deep in their own box saw the Dutch player swing in a cross, with three or four of her teammates waiting to head the ball towards goal. Egurrola was one of those players and she made firm contact with the ball to divert it past Diede Lemey’s dive.

The entire stadium, the players on the bench and Groenen in the stands all shot up in celebration, with the substitutes bench emptying out to race towards their hero Egurrola.

It was a moment of release, a moment of pure joy as all that anxiety leading up to that moment was let go like a pressure valve being opened for the first time.

If you’re a Lionesses fan, nothing about this moment brought you any joy. Instead, it gave you a moment to think of letting something slip through your fingers. It was that poor performance against the Dutch in the first game against them, it was the then poor performance in the first half at Wembley Stadium that forced the team to have to rely on Belgium to help them. For the Netherlands however, it was a moment for a young player who many have high hopes for, to step into her own. Jackie Groenen remains the preferred starter over Egurrola but when Groenen could do nothing but watch from the stands, Damaris Egurrola showed up and showed out.

The Netherlands now have to face up against Spain, Germany or France to seal their place in next year’s Olympic Games. After a moment like that one yesterday, they will feel on top of the world and will want to keep the good times rolling.