You know the Dutch? The European champions? The team that impressed as the home nation two years ago, starting a feel-good wave of love and optimism about women’s football that swept through the Netherlands. Better late than never, they’ve shown up in France – must have been stuck in traffic.
The good and the bad
On their day, the Dutch are sublime. They ooze orangey-ness and steamroll teams. However, when they’re not on a song, they’re just a pile of rubbish. Players pass blindly, they fail to track back and utilise space; they play like strangers, frustrated and lost.
Too often, since the Dutch won their home Euros, they’ve been absent and off colour. The starting XI the most predictable in the world, out of form players favoured in the familiar 4-3-3. Having, rather clichédly, inspired a nation over the Euros, the Netherlands became the best supported women’s national team overnight, their faithful Oranje army selling out stadiums in minutes. Their support never wavering through the drek on show.
Requiring a second chance to reach the World Cup via the four-team UEFA play-off, the Dutch should have been spurred into action by their near miss but opted to stay the course. The results in France far from encouraging. In what could be seen as an easy group, the Oranje failed to live up to the billing. Needing stoppage time against a staunchly defensive New Zealand, and a late-ish winner against Canada, the Leeuwinnen were most disappointing against Cameroon. Up against the third-lowest ranked nation at the tournament, in the stadium only a few hours’ drive from the Dutch boarder, the “hosts” were poor that afternoon.
They finished top of Group E but had done little to show their pedigree along the way, a deflection and an eyebrow raising penalty in the 90th minute against Japan enough to see them through to the last eight. Europe was reigning supreme, the Dutch the seventh and final squad to book their spot in the knockouts but their progression but there was no sense of more.
Back in Valenciennes, with just Belgium separating the team from their homeland, the sweltering heat left their quarterfinal tie with Italy stilted and scoreless at the break. The Azzurre could even have claimed to have had the better chances, both teams lacking a clinical finish. Then finally, with over 400 minutes of World Cup football under their belts this summer, the Dutch finally came out to play against Italy.
Although it might not have been the same stylish football they’re capable of, it was relentless and finally their pressure told. The orange-filled stadium rejoiced as they booked their spot in the last four and confirmed their debut Olympic appearance. Whether their fuse has finally been lit under the team or not remains to be seen but this is the first the Dutch have started to look like anything related to a good side for a long time.
The European champions might have just rocked up at the World Cup ready to party.