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The UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 final was the best soccer game of the summer

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Netherlands won a six-goal thriller in front of a sold-out home crowd and it was incredible to watch.

Netherlands v Denmark - UEFA Women's Euro 2017: Final Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Entering UEFA Women’s Euro 2017, the Netherlands were fourth favorites. The Oranje were rated only that high by the bookies because they were hosting the tournament. They finished bottom of their group at Euro 2013, then third in their group at the 2015 World Cup before losing in the Round of 16 and failing to qualify for the Olympics. If they were going to contend to win the tournament, it was assumed that the boost they’d get from their crowd would be what put them over the top.

The Netherlands did end up getting an amazing lift from their fans, but that’s not why they became champions of Europe on Sunday. They won the Euros — defeating Denmark 4-2 in the final — because they were the best team at the tournament, period. The were undoubtedly superior to favorites Germany, France and England, outplaying each one of their opponents en route to a perfect record.

And the final was the best game of them all, with the Danes showing off incredible skill and pushing the Netherlands to their limits throughout the six-goal thriller. It was the perfect conclusion to a spectacular tournament that felt like an evolution of women’s soccer in Europe.

Crowds started gathering outside De Grolsch Veste in Enschede early in the morning before the final. The party outside set the stage for the atmosphere inside the stadium later on.

The game was a sellout, and the 28,182 in attendance was a record for a Dutch women’s national team game.

Denmark went ahead within two minutes, stunning the crowd. The Danes’ biggest star, Nadia Nadim, converted from the penalty spot, scoring her second goal of the tournament. But star Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema scored a 10th-minute equalizer, and tricky winger Lieke Martens — who would be named player of the tournament — fired the hosts into the lead in the 28th minute with a perfectly placed shot from outside the penalty area.

But Denmark wouldn’t go away. With the Netherlands pushing forward for more goals, Pernille Harder found a ton of space down the left wing, then torched the entire Dutch defense by herself before scoring one of the best individual goals of the tournament.

Halftime gave both coaches the chance to make defensive adjustments and settle everyone down emotionally. They may have attempted this in the locker rooms, but they accomplished no such thing. After only six minutes of second half play, the Netherlands had the lead back thanks to a free kick by Sherida Spitse.

There were no goals between the 51st and 89th minutes, but that does not mean that those 38 minutes lacked for excitement. Instead, they were the best part of the game, because they featured the best plays of the game.

Interlude: The three best plays of the Euro 2017 final, ranked.

3. Stina Lykke Petersen’s kick save.

2. Martens’ turn and nutmeg.

1. Nadim’s majestic 50-yard run.

Somehow, in a game with six goals, none of the goals was as much of a highlight as these three plays.

Vivianne Miedema shuts up the haters

Despite being just 21 years old, Miedema has already had some major accomplishments in her career, which leads to her being subjected to criticism we usually reserve for established veterans. She won player of the tournament at the Under-19 Euros in 2014, has won the Bundesliga twice, and has been the Champions League’s leading scorer. But she was also poor at the last World Cup, and was heavily criticized for her struggles in the group stage of this tournament, despite the Netherlands winning all three of their games.

Miedema’s response to her critics couldn’t have been any better. She scored in the quarterfinal against Sweden, the semifinal against England, and twice in the final on Sunday. Here’s Miedema finding the back of the net to tie the match at 1-1.

And later, the game-clinching goal. With the Netherlands lead at just one, they were under constant threat from the Danes, who looked more than capable of forcing extra time. Harder, Nadim, and Katrine Veje had the Dutch defense scrambling for most of the second half.

Then Miedema sealed the European title for her team with this goal in the 89th minute.

There couldn’t have been a better ending. At the conclusion of a tournament that was full of goals and a breathtaking, end-to-end final, a 21-year-old budding superstar proved that she’s worth her hype and cemented her place among the world’s best attackers.

Best of all, she did it in front of one of the best crowds that European women’s soccer has ever seen. Euro 2017 felt like it ushered in a new era of women’s soccer on the continent — the sport is no longer dominated by a tiny handful of countries. World-class players and thousands of passionate fans are popping up in countries that were bringing very little to the women’s game just a decade ago.

Euro 2017 was brilliant and featured a truly spectacular final, but it felt a lot bigger than that too. Women’s soccer seems to get better with every major tournament, and the next one should be no exception.