The best was saved to last in the Netherlands as Euro17’s most exciting game proved both a peerless advertisement for women’s football and turned Holland into deserved, if surprise, continental champions.
Vivianne Miedema scored twice for the Oranje but her outstanding contribution was simply one of many during a breathlessly exhilarating evening on which Denmark offered a masterclass in losing gallantly.
After three weeks here of often cagey football inhibition was thrown to the wind with both finalists evidently deciding attack to be the best form of defence. “It was a great match between two teams that really wanted to play and really wanted to attack,” said Sarina Wiegman, Holland’s coach. “Now we’re going to party really hard.”
In many ways it was a shame there had to be a loser after so much blistering pace, exhilarating wing play, intelligent passing, incisively strategic counter-attacking and ruthless finishing from both sides. Hats off, too, to Switzerland’s Esther Staubli for much sensible refereeing.
Played in front of a capacity 28,000-plus crowd the occasion also proved a decent showcase for Enschede. The city has known tough times - heavily bombed during the second World War, it suffered severe economic hardship after the collapse of its textile industry and suffered a horrific explosion at a fireworks depot which, 17 years ago, destroyed hundreds of homes.
On Sunday though this eastern Netherlands outpost, close to the German border, was in full-on party mode. As bright sun and dark clouds played hide and seek, Enschede’s streets and squares were transformed into a sea of orange, leavened only by streaks of Danish red and white.
Trains from the centre to this steep-sided stadium can rarely have been as packed since Steve McClaren steered FC Twente to the Eredivisie title in 2010.
Judging by the high percentage of enthusiastic male spectators – of all ages – it seemed that a hitherto slightly sceptical host nation really had fallen in love with women’s football.
Only last month the final had been expected to involve Germany – eight times tournament winners and holders for the past 22 years – France or maybe even England. Instead Wiegman’s women deconstructed England in the semi-final after Nils Nielsen’s Danes had shocked everyone by ending German hegemony in the quarter-finals.
With Nielsen a proud Greenlander and Wiegman having coached in the men’s game at Sparta Rotterdam, two coaches accustomed to being regarded as somewhat unusual had once again astounded all-comers.
If interest was consequently high in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, Denmark’s naturalised striker Nadia Nadim would have been discreetly cheered on by her old friends and family in Herat. Nadim fled Afghanistan as a refugee after her father was executed by the Taliban.
Now also playing for Oregon’s Portland Thorns, Nadim wanted revenge for Denmark’s 1-0 group defeat by Holland. Accordingly she lifted a sixth-minute penalty over Arsenal’s Sari van Veenendaal and high into the roof of the net after Kika van Es tripped Sanne Troelsgaard.
Until Sunday these sides had conceded three goals between them this joint reputation for defensive parsimony was well on the way to being thoroughly shredded.
Four minutes later Liverpool’s Shanice van de Sanden used her pace to get behind the Danish backline and unleash a right-wing cross. Meeting it on the run, Miedema, newly signed by Arsenal from Bayern Munich, used her first touch to shoot Holland level from 10 yards.
Anxious not to be eclipsed, Lieke Martens – Barcelona’s new £180,000-a-year left-winger and the player of the tournament – quickly punished Stina Lykke Petersen after Denmark’s goalkeeper had no answer to her turn and left-foot shot from just outside the area. Who needs Neymar?
Nadim was thwarted by Van Veenendaal before Pernille Harder equalised courtesy of a wonderful individual goal at the end of one of many fine Danish counter-attacks. Having sprung Holland’s offside trap the striker cut in from the right before shooting low just inside a post.
If that concerned the spectators, who included Marco van Basten and Louis van Gaal, early second-half reassurance arrived when the excellent Sherida Spitse propelled their side ahead, her dummy prefacing an audacious daisy-cutting free-kick directed past a statuesque Petersen and into the bottom corner.
Undeterred Denmark’s goalkeeper performed wonders somehow to repel Miedema’s goal-bound six-yard volley before Katrine Veje hit a post.
England’s Jodie Taylor claimed the Golden Boot with five goals but Miedema guaranteed Holland the gold medal by turning sharply and shooting low past Petersen to put the trophy finally out of Denmark’s reach.
“At times we were like Bambi on ice,” said Nielsen. “But I’m very proud, sometimes the other team is just slightly better. I enjoyed it.” He was not alone.
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