Fairytale finish eludes Dutch defender van der Gragt in loss to Spain


It was not the fairytale finish that Stefanie van der Gragt might have envisioned, with both a goal and a costly hand ball in a 2-1 loss to Spain in Friday's quarter-finals that knocked the Netherlands out of the Women's World Cup.

But her coach Andries Jonker said the 30-year-old, who played for the Dutch team for the last time on Friday, "deserves a statue".

Van der Gragt's mind-bogglingly obvious handball in the 81st minute led to Spain's first goal, but she earned a bit of redemption by scoring herself 10 minutes later to send the game to extra time.

Jonker said she would be missed.

"This kind of defender disappearing in modern football, it's mentality, it's attitude, it is a huge will to win, to fight, it's physical, strong with the head, strong over the ground. Every tackle is a tackle," Jonker said. "Not the best player in the world, but maybe the best defender.

"She has shown up for this international team for more than 100 matches (she has made 107 appearances). One way or another, she deserves a statue.

"We respect her a lot. It's her decision. (But) if she would change her mind, she would be welcome."

The Dutch were considered among the favourites Down Under after finishing runners-up to the United States in 2019.

Oranje were knocked out of Euro 2022 by France, however, in the quarter-finals, and Jonker said he is proud of how his squad have rebounded in the span of a year.

"This is a tough one to swallow. But we put ourselves on the map again," Jonker said.

Jonker was also angry on Friday that officials waved off what he believed should have been a penalty when Spanish defender Irene Paredes bulldozed over Lineth Beerensteyn in the area. The referee initially ruled it a penalty but VAR said otherwise.

"I thought okay, no penalty, but when I saw the repetition just now (on video), it should have been a penalty after all," the coach said. "It still doesn't mean that Spain didn't win deservedly."

The ninth-ranked Netherlands became the tournament's latest top-ranked casualty, joining already eliminated US, Germany, Canada and Brazil.

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