SCOTLAND’S 2015 Women’s World Cup adventure came to an end in Rotterdam when second-half goals from Lieke Martens and Manon Melis gave the Netherlands a deserved victory on the night and on aggregate over the two legs of the play-off semi-final.
Anna Signeul and her players never looked like overturning the 2-1 scoreline from Tynecastle on Saturday night, even if they played much better at a noisy Sparta Stadion. The Dutch will now play Italy next month to decide who takes the eighth and final Uefa place in Canada.
“I would accept the better side won over the two legs,” Signeul conceded. “If you look at the overall quality, they had more of it. The two wide players, Martens and Melis, were probably the difference between the two sides.
“We have had a great campaign in terms of consistency and performance and have good young players coming through, like Kirsty Smith who got her first cap off the bench tonight, but we are not there yet.”
Signeul made two changes from the first leg – Caroline Weir and Emma Mitchell replacing Leanne Crichton and the injured Hayley Lauder. The Dutch were unchanged.
The occasion was especially auspicious for Ifeoma Dieke and Mandy van den Berg, who play in central defence for the Swedish club Vittsjo. It was Dieke’s 100th cap, while Van den Berg, the Dutch captain, was winning her 50th.
The century maker was prominent in the opening 15 minutes despite Scotland, with Kim Little playing much deeper to get her more involved in the game, making a much more positive start than on Saturday. The 33-year-old twice cleared dangerous balls from Melis just in front of the Scotland goal line, but was also responsible for a short back pass to Gemma Fay which nearly handed Martens a gift opener.
Scotland’s much more resolute approach was epitomised by Lisa Evans, who, in the space of a few minutes, dispossessed the ever-dangerous Melis near the Scotland penalty box and then did the same to the imposing Anouk Dekker at the other end of the pitch. She then took a neat reverse pass from Jo Love and rounded Loes Geurts only for the offside flag to go up.
Midway though the half the noisy home crowd thought their side had gone ahead. Vivianne Miedema, the prolific teenage striker, collected a through ball and easily shrugged aside Frankie Brown – but her shot was crucially deflected into the side netting by Fay.
Scotland finally got their sights on Geurts twice in the last 15 minutes or the half. Love was first up, but the Gothenburg goalkeeper easily saved her shot from the edge of the box. Then she again thwarted the visitors after their best attacking move of the 45 minutes, when Rachel Corsie and Love put Ross behind the defence only for Guerts to close the angle down and block the subsequent close-range attempt.
With neither side having scored the goal which would completely change the complexion of the tie, Signeul pushed Little much further forward in the second half. While it gave Scotland much more presence up front, the Dutch tore up that script with the opener in the 51st minute.
As in the first leg, Martens was the scorer. Danielle van de Donk, the energetic central midfielder, cut in from the right and squared to Martens, who fired a terrific shot past Fay from 20 yards.
Scotland started the game needing at least two goals to stay in the tie, and while the Netherlands strike didn’t change that it made the visitors’ predicament more acute. They nearly got a penalty when Love went down in the box, but Swiss referee Esther Staubli decided the push occurred just outside it; Little’s low free-kick was saved on the line by Geurts, who a minute later again denied the Scot, turning her shot round the post for a corner.
With the game opening up, the Netherlands made three quick chances of their own, any one of which would have put the tie beyond Scotland’s reach. Miedema made a hash of the first, but Fay did really well to ensure that neither Melis nor Martens scored with the other two.
Thirteen minutes from time the second goal finally arrived. Dieke failed to clear her lines and Melis exuberantly beat Fay to spark the biggest cheer of the night from the home fans.
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