If someone told you before the start of the 2015 Women’s World Cup that debutante Netherlands would get knocked out in the round of sixteen, but would rise through the ranks of global women’s soccer to a 2019 Women’s World Cup semi-final against Sweden would you have believed them?
Would you believe that along the way the Dutch, led by manager Sarina Wiegman, claimed the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro? Or, due to how UEFA handles Olympic qualifications, the Netherlands also qualified for the 2020 Olympic soccer tournament?
Well, believe it or not, that’s exactly what the Netherlands has done.
The run to the semis began in group E for the Netherlands where the Dutch swept the three other teams: Canada, Cameroon, and New Zealand by a combined goal total of six to two. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Dutch line up in a 4-3-3. The captain of the squad is Sari van Veenendaal, the 29 year-old former Arsenal goalkeeper, who continues to impress in major tournaments coming up big when it matters. In front of her, the first choice center back Dominique Bloodworth teams with either Stefanie van der Gragt or veteran defender, Anouk Dekker. It’s worth noting that the Netherlands have found some offensive production from this group as each center back has scored once in this tournament.
Playing out wide as fullbacks are Desiree van Lunteren and Merel van Dongen who will attempt to join the attack with overlapping runs. While in the midfield the Orange will have Daniëlle van de Donk centrally, Sherida Spitse on the left, and Jackie Groenen on the right. In the recent run of matches, Spitse has contributed to the attack generating four assists so far; three of which have happened in the knockout stage. Other midfielders, such as Jill Roord, have come off the bench to contribute with the game winning goal in the group stage versus New Zealand. The true bite in the attack comes from the front line for the Netherlands.
There’s little doubt the starting front three will be Lieke Martens, Vivianne Miedema, and Shanice van de Sanden. The group has scored a combined total of five goals so far this tournament without a contribution from van de Sanden, so the attack still has some room to improve against Sweden. The tendency of this Netherlands team is to score goals late; in the five World Cup matches the Dutch have scored in the 80th minute or later in four of them. The team will not quit pressing the attack and seems to wear down their opposition.
The stage is set for the final four in the World Cup, and it’s almost unbelievable to consider that the Netherlands were referred to as a dark horse for possible tournament winner. The champions of Europe have managed to fly under the radar while England and France have taken the spotlight. Perhaps the results of the Algarve Cup put doubt in pundits’ minds; however, this run demonstrated that the Euro results were not a fluke. Every opponent facing the Orange Wave have been washed away. Could their path so far have been more challenging? Perhaps, but no one can claim the Netherlands don’t belong here. The remaining teams better watch out.