The Women’s World Cup has witnessed one of the more beautiful moments of sportsmanship you’re ever likely to see.
Lieke Martens converted a 90th-minute penalty to break Japanese hearts and take the Netherlands through to the quarter-finals for the first time with a 2-1 win on Tuesday.
The Nadeshiko were the better team in the second half but were undone by yet another penalty in a World Cup dominated by spot-kicks, with Martens scoring after a Vivianne Miedema shot had struck the hand of captain Saki Kumagai from point-blank range.
After the full-time whistle, Kumagai was absolutely shattered, bawling her eyes out on the pitch as she shook hands with her opponents.
One of those opponents was Shanice van de Sanden, her club teammate for Lyon, who grabbed Kumagai in her arms and held her while she cried, the devastation moving her to tears as well.
The heartbreaking scenes left many in tears.
Oh stop that footage of Kumagai being comforted by Lyon team-mate Van de Sanden 😣— Sarah Mulkerrins (@SarahMulkerrins) June 25, 2019
Nice to see Shanen Van Der Sanden consoling Kumagai. Heart crushing way to lose a game.— Mcebisi Mtshali (@McMtshali) June 25, 2019
My girls ❤️— Rabeeta Farooque (@OffsideBeet) June 25, 2019
Netherland's Shanice van de Sanden consoles Japan's Saki Kumagai after their elimination from the World Cup.
Lyon teammates through thick and thin. #OLFamily trumps all.#TeamOL #FIFAWWC #NEDJPN pic.twitter.com/cZXbSqBc04
RESPECT. 👏👏— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 25, 2019
Shanice van de Sanden comforted her Lyon club mate Saki Kumagai and the rest of the team followed suit. pic.twitter.com/bOPne8kh5F
I just can't stop crying when I see Shanice's face full of love and concern for her friend. ❤😔— Shireen Footybedsheets Ahmed (@_shireenahmed_) June 25, 2019
‘Bit of luck’
The Netherlands, reigning European champions, go through to a quarter-final on Saturday against Italy, who defeated China 2-0 earlier in the day.
"It is history that we have made. We are really proud about that but we are not done yet here. We are really looking forward to the next game and we hope we can surprise more," said Martens.
She accepted the penalty award at the end had been harsh on Japan, adding: "It's not our decision, we are really happy with that and sometimes you need a bit of luck."
After winning the 2011 World Cup and losing in the final four years ago, Japan go home, ending Asian interest in France already.
Seven of the eight quarter-finalists are from Europe, with holders the United States the only exception.
The manner of Japan's defeat here drew sympathy from the crowd, with loud jeers greeting the final whistle.
"It was a penalty, it struck my hand. Of course it is very hard to accept. I am sad but I know that that's football," admitted a tearful Kumagai.
Another disgusting decision for handball at this #FIFAWWC It's not the referee's fault whatsoever, it's the laws. I hope the final is decided like this I really do.— Chris Murtagh (@Murtiniiii) June 25, 2019
All I want is logic applied and subjectivity like there used to be. But no. Ball hits hand - HANDBALL!!!! No. I don’t care if the rules are updated that’s not the spirit of the game. It’s ruining results in important matches. Absolutely disgusting— SamuelChasan (@SamuelChasan) June 25, 2019
Fair play to Holland ... they did not play well. But they won. That’s all they will care about. Ruthless.— Jessica Fishlock MBE (@JessFishlock) June 25, 2019
Japan. You blessed us again with the most beautiful football. Please score though. @FIFAWWC - please change the handball rule. It’s dumb. Thanks.
I feel so sick for Japan Women. They've played some wonderful football, and they've been stiffed by this ludicrous handball rule.— Chris Schilling (@schillingc) June 25, 2019