England held their nerve to edge through to the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship final with a 5-4 win on penalties after a tense, tenacious last-four meeting with the Netherlands.
With nothing to separate the sides after 120 minutes the game became only the fourth in the competition's history – by five minutes – to go to a shoot-out. There was little to choose there, either, but Dutch captain Siri Worm fired the Jong Oranje's second attempt a fraction wide and Gilly Flaherty converted the decisive kick.
England are old hands at this stage – this was their third semi-final in four years – and as the Jong Oranje sat back, betraying some early nerves, the holders were quickly into their stride. Jordan Nobbs was in the thick of it, the pivot of the midfield passing and getting forward to size up goalkeeper Roxanne van den Berg from range.
Not too advanced, however, with Carmen Manduapessij deftly mopping up much of what spilled over into the final third and, slowly, the Netherlands settled. It became a battle of attrition, both sides defending in numbers and giving little away, until the slenderest of cracks appeared with half-time approaching.
First, Worm's shot from 30 metres out bounced awkwardly in front of Rebecca Spencer, who did well to push it past the post. Back came England, and in some style, as Demi Stokes twisted and turned through the Dutch midfield and played a give and go with Jessica Holbrook before laying the ball off to Toni Duggan.
The striker may have expected to score but, still running gingerly after a knock, she lashed her effort straight at Van den Berg. The keeper was called upon again soon after the restart as England began the half with a spate of corners. Flaherty was denied first by the No1, then Manduapessij on the line while a Dutch defender beat both with a header that dropped just wide.
Hesterine de Reus's side were soon back holding their own, though, and as the prospect of Saturday's showpiece at this stadium became ever more real the game became stretched. The lively Duggan twice tested Van den Berg and only the unerring timing of Lucia Bronze's blocks ensured Spencer had less to concern her at the other end.
So came extra time and still the defensive fortresses refused to yield until the penalty shoot-out forced them to. There Flaherty kept her cool as the Netherlands endured the rare, unwelcome distinction of bowing out unbeaten and unbreached.
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