This article is part of the Guardian’s 2019 Women’s World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries who have qualified for France. The Equalizer, as part of the network, will profile each of the 24 countries.
The Dutch national team (nickname “The Orange Lionesses”) are at their best when they go forward and use their pace. The right winger Shanice van de Sanden, who plays for Lyon, is one of the fastest women in international football while Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema is one of the best strikers in the world. Miedema has just won the league with Arsenal and was chosen as the best player in the world in 2017, sharing a private jet with Lionel Messi when they attended the FIFA award show.
If these Dutch forwards perform this team is hard to stop, especially as there is a strong midfield to back them up. Usually that consists of the captain, Sherida Spitse, as well as Jackie Groenen and the technically gifted Daniëlle van de Donk. In defense, however, this Dutch team are not the most solid with the center back positions a particular problem with the physically strong Stephanie van der Gragt often injured.
Since their surprising victory at the European Championships on home soil in 2017 the Dutch team are often regarded as favorites against any opponent – and this is difficult for the team. Most opposing teams these days play very defensively against the Dutch, forcing Wiegman’s team to be extremely accurate and quick with their passing to break down the defenses.
Despite winning Euro 2017 this is only the second time the team have qualified for the World Cup after their appearance in Canada four years ago. They reached France 2019 the hard way though, losing out to Norway in the group and having to defeat Denmark and Switzerland in the playoffs.
The fans’ expectations for this World Cup are quite high. Most internationals play abroad in countries such as England, Norway, Germany and Spain and there is a feeling back home that the team should compete for the title because of their success two years ago, but that will be difficult.
The last two World Cup finals have been contested between USA and Japan and when the Dutch side faced the latter in the round of 16 in Canada they lost narrowly, 2-1, but were quite comprehensively outplayed.
They 49-year-old Sarina Wiegman, who was the first woman to play more than 100 times for the national team, has been the national coach since 2016. She is one of only three Dutch women who have received the highest coaching diploma in football. In 2017, only six months after she was appointed, she led the team to the European title by beating Denmark in the final. That triumph is considered to be one the greatest victories in the history of the Dutch federation, KNVB. The players, who played every game in front of a sellout crowd, went on a celebration boat tour through the canals of Utrecht afterwards. Since then the stadiums have mostly been sold out for every international match.
Lieke Martens is the most popular female player in Dutch football. She’s a left winger who mostly plays with her right foot (her left foot is not bad either though). She became the poster girl of the European Championships, through her goals, assists and dribbles. She grew up in the Southern province of Limburg, is modest by nature, and left the country at a young age to pursue her dream of becoming a professional footballer. After the European Championship she joined Barcelona. Like most Dutch internationals she mostly played with and against boys until she was 16 years old.
Did you know?
Midfielder Jacky Groenen is a huge admirer of Johan Cruyff and plays with No 14 because of that. When growing up she would study DVDs of Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp in the car on the way to holiday destinations. The Frankfurt player’s music taste, however, is questioned by her teammates. She likes the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen and owns an old fashioned record player.
Brief history of women’s football in the Netherlands
Women’s football has always come second to the men’s game in the Netherlands. Just a few years ago some pundits would call the women’s game “a waste of the grass it’s being played on”. The first international match for women was played in 1956 but the Dutch top league (Eredivisie) was not created until 2007, and it only happened because of the hard work Vera Pauw, the national coach at the time. It still does not get a lot of coverage. Very few games are shown on TV and the attendances are low. The first time the national team qualified for a big tournament was in 2009, the European Championships in Finland. They performed surprisingly well and many journalists flew over at the last moment to cover the tournament. The Dutch were beaten by England in the semifinals after knocking out France in the quarterfinals.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Lineth Beerensteyn. The young Bayern Munich forward performed well during the playoffs, when she replaced the injured Miedema. Beerensteyn even kept Miedema out of the team after the latter recovered because she played so well. She scored three out of the four goals in the match against Denmark.
What is the realistic aim for the Netherlands in France and why?
A spot in the quarterfinals. The Dutch should certainly get through the group stage with New Zealand, Cameroon and Canada as the opposition. At their first World Cup, four years ago in Canada, the team reached the round of 16 so going one step further seems like a healthy ambition. After that anything is possible.
Registered female players and budget
The Dutch federation has about 160,000 registered players of a total membership of 1.2 million. Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the Netherlands. The team budget is about €3m in years with a major tournament and in other years it is €2m-€2.5m. That number includes salaries, bonuses, marketing and team costs, including travel.
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