Ullevaal stadium in Oslo provided a magnificent setting for the grand finale. Thor, the Norse god of thunder, had expended his wrath by lunchtime and, as the Spanish and Dutch teams lined up for the national anthems, their shirts, the grass and the colours of the stadium glistened with the special freshness that comes after rain. But, when Slovak referee Zuzana Kováčová signalled the start of the 2014 final, the players found it difficult to match the clarity and brilliance of their surroundings. As if disconcerted by the transition from artificial surfaces to the slick reality of humid natural grass, they struggled to calculate the weight of their first touches and their passing.
The two tracksuited coaches – Jorge Vilda at the Spanish helm, André Koolhof leading the Dutch – exercised squatters' rights on the corners of their technical areas nearest to the centre line and attempted to promote greater tranquillity by making positional retouches to formations which were practically mirror images of each other – but not quite. Both could be accurately labelled as 4-3-3. But spot-the-difference contestants would have focused on the middle three. Vilda had Maitane López as a single screening midfielder in front of his back four; Koolhof inverted the triangle, with Inessa Kaagman and Kim Mourmans sharing controlling roles while Jill Roord, at the apex, was the notional link between midfield and the front three.
The attacking trios knew they faced a challenging evening. Spain's sunshine-yellow-shirted goalkeeper Sara Serrat and her blue-shirted Dutch counterpart Jennifer Vreugdenhil had arrived at Ullevaal on the back of three clean sheets in four games and with levels of agility and alertness which had converted them into sweepers of such proficiency that they transfused confidence into the back fours. Both pairs of central defenders worked diligently to create auras of impregnability, with Spain's Garazi Murúa and Marta Turmo combining efficiently to stifle Vivianne Miedema, the Dutch team's armour-penetrating weapon who had hit the target five times in two-and-a-half games en route to the Oslo showdown.
With central areas vigilantly patrolled, both teams reconnoitred the wide areas. Andrea Sánchez, back from injury but with her thigh diligently bandaged, threatened with her solo skills on the Spanish left, María Caldentey on the right, where her path was obdurately blocked by the powerful Danielle Kuikstra. Both received enthusiastic support from their full-backs. With Miedema stifled, the most troublesome element for the Spanish defence was the lively right-winger Jeslynn Kuijpers, perpetrator of bustling runs towards the byline.
For Koolhof's team, the major concern was that supply lines were being constricted. Roord's searches for space went unrewarded and, after spending the closing moments of the first half stubbornly seated near the halfway line, she failed to appear after the interval. More importantly, Inessa Kaagman, eye-catchingly impressive as playmaker during the run to the final, was struggling to unshackle herself from individual marking. But Mourmans, hitherto more conspicuous for her industry than her creativity, readily accepted the baton. It was she who changed the course of the contest in the 21st minute by threading a pass into the channel between the Spanish centre-back Murúa and left-back Garrote. Miedema, timing a powerful run to perfection, adjusted her mental radar to the sortie by goalkeeper Sara Serrat and coolly clipped the ball past her into the centre of the unguarded net. It was a predator's goal. And it changed the course of the game.
For Vilda, the immediate challenge was, with instructions and body language, to persuade his players to remain faithful to their patient possession game. He was partially successful at a juncture where the panic button was to appear increasingly attractive. As UEFA technical observer Hope Powell remarked: "The goal was an invitation for the Dutch to stick to their strengths – and they did exactly that with great tactical astuteness. But the Spanish girls were tempted to go direct – to hit the long pass. And when they did, they tended to hit long diagonal passes aimed at team-mates rather than spaces behind the Dutch defence – which meant they were relatively easy to cut out."
The result was a contest painted in chiaroscuro in which each team interspersed grey spells with flashes of brilliance. The Dutch keeper twice played with fire, almost allowing Spain's left-winger Sánchez to capitalise on over-confident ball control. But, by the time the referee signalled half-time, Spanish control had yielded set-play opportunities yet no clear scoring opportunities.
When play resumed, the Dutch focused on maintaining a compact unit and, with Laura Strik moving inwards from the left touch line, narrowed their attack and used Kuijpers' powerful runs on the right as their most incisive weapon. Counterattacks threatened to double their lead during a period in which Miedema shot straight at the keeper, exploited an uncharacteristic Spanish ball loss to run at goal but drag a left-footed shot wide, and missed the target again after an explosive solo counterattack.
Otherwise, the second half was a story of Spanish domination, punctuated by jittery episodes when their individual marking struggled to cope with positional interchanging among the Dutch front-runners, or when they were simply outmuscled by superior Dutch physique. Vilda made only one substitution, sending on the more incisive Alba Redondo for the hard-working midfielder Leire Baños. Koolhof used his other two changes to put fresh legs on to the left flank, replacing Strik with Simone Kets and sending on Cornelia Peels for Kuikstra at left-back.
Spain, when advancing with neat, short combinations rather than opting for more direct routes, constantly threatened to equalise. A corner on the right provoked a nervous scramble and the diminutive Nahikari García, leading the Spain attack with a wisdom beyond her years, had chances which went begging – among them a shot which, after Redondo had squared a ball across the Dutch box, was repelled by Vreugdenhil and subsequently hacked off the line by a defender. Vilda continued to advocate patience and persistence, waving his players into position but, as he lamented afterwards, "it was one of those days when the ball didn't want to go in". Spanish persistence went unrewarded, with Redondo summarising a frustrating evening by heading wide from an added-time free-kick. Significantly, when the Slovak referee ended the contest, the Dutch players swarmed like bees to a honeypot towards their goalkeeper and to use her as the centrepiece of jubilant dancing.
Vilda, meanwhile, called his disconsolate players into a team huddle and asked them to feel proud of their achievement. The restoration of pride, however, requires time. The collection of silver medals represented a tearfully conducted duty, not least for left-back Nuria Garrote, distraught to have played, in eight months, two European and one World Cup finals and to have lost them all.
As his ecstatic players collected their gold medals and Inessa Kaagman became the first captain to lift the newly designed trophy, Koolhof was able to reflect on a successful first year as head coach in women's football and to lavish praise on opponents who, he freely admitted, had been the better team. The final had been played, as Hope Powell commented, by "two teams who played with exceptional maturity combined with elements of naivety you'd expect at this age level". The Dutch had taken their first ever title in women's football thanks to the predatory instincts of a natural striker – thanks to a solitary Miedema moment.