Spain shock defending champions Finland in 12-0 Euros win

By Michael Preston

Spain announced their arrival at the IFAF Women’s European Championship in dramatic style with a 12-0 victory in Finland, shocking the defending champions who won the bronze medal at the World Championships last year.

After a scoreless first half, Spain quarterback Victoria Valverde threw a touchdown pass to Olga Sotillo early in the third quarter on a short toss which turned into a 67-yard score. Sotillo then went to the air herself, connecting with fellow receiver Allison Rodriguez over 22 yards in the fourth quarter. Valverde finished the win with 10 of 24 passes completed for 168 yards with her favored target Sotillo reeling in 7 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown.

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Photo: Jari Turunen

Head coach Manuel Ibáñez Rodríguez had commented earlier in the week that his team faced a challenging task in winning games at the 2023/24 Euros, but Spain have instead toppled one of the favorites for the continental crown.

Spain held the much-heralded Finnish running game to only 73 yards from 31 attempts and won the game’s aerial duel by 190 yards to 121. The visitors’ special teams pinned the hosts deep inside their own territory when starting drives, with three punts landing inside the Finland 20. Defensively, Cristina Gomez led the way with 8.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss and 2 pass breakups. Cornerback Mireia Peral and Sotillo, doubling up at defensive back, each came up with an interception of Finnish quarterback Essi Soderholm.

Spain came closest to breaking the deadlock after a scoreless first quarter, but Valverde was sacked for a loss of 11 yards having snapped the ball at the hosts’ 13-yard line and fumbled away possession, which was recovered by Essi Saastamoinen.

Finland were being held to short rushing gains by the determined visitors and it was Spain who took a lengthy drive into the second quarter, which ended with three incomplete passes.

Both sides turned the ball over as linebacker Lara Alabert forced a fumble on the end of an 8-yard Mari Jaaskela run and Oona Tuomi intercepted Valverde just two yards from the end zone to halt a promising Spanish possession. The process was repeated when Anni Alanko recovered a fumble for Finland, but then Sotillo picked off Soderholm, who had just gained 25 yards on a pass to Kirsti Nirhamo.

Photo: Jari Turunen

After halftime, a Soderholm connection with Milla Korhonen edged Finland into Spanish territory, but Peral came up with her interception to again frustrate the hosts. On the following play in return, Sotillo turned Valverde’s pass into a 67-yard touchdown and Spain claimed an unexpected 6-0 lead but failed with a two-point pass attempt.

Spain secured victory in the fourth quarter. Valverde connected twice with Sotillo for gains of 16 and 13 yards and then with Hernandez before the two receivers combined for a touchdown, Sotillo hitting her teammate on a 22-yard scoring pass.

Read the original article by Michael Preston on the IFAF website.

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