The Netherlands' run to the Women's
World Cup final belies the reputation of the Dutch for punctuality.
In grammar school, Dutch kids are given agendas so they can learn the art of calendaring. Being on time is ingrained into them at an early age.
Somewhere along the line, the Leeuwinnen didn't get the message.
The Netherlands is the reigning European champion but needed to win two playoff rounds to just qualify for the World Cup after finishing second in its group to Norway. It's won all six games it's played in France but led at the half in none of them, beginning with its opener when it defeated New Zealand, 1-0, on a goal in the third minute of stoppage time.
The Leeuwinnen's toughest game came in the round of 16 when they needed a controversial handball call in the 90th minute to defeat Japan, 2-1, on Lieke Martens' penalty kick.
Crucially, the Dutch will face the USA on Sunday with one less day of rest after needing overtime to dispose of Sweden, 1-0, in the semifinals. And that was after a 2-0 win over Italy in the afternoon heat in Valenciennes. The Dutch federation even petitioned FIFA to get the kickoff time pushed back, to no avail.
The Dutch showed their fatigue on Wednesday night in Lyon. In contrast to the pulsating USA-England match the night before, the Netherlands-Sweden match was a drawn-out affair, ending 0-0 after 90 minutes.
The front three of Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal), Shanice van de Sanden (Lyon) and Martens (Barcelona) was expected to be one of the best at the World Cup, but the Oranje has managed just 12 goals in six games, fewer than the USA scored in its opening win over Thailand.
Martens injured her toe celebrating her winning goal against Japan, played the entire 90 minutes against Italy but left the Sweden game at halftime.
“It didn’t feel good," she said after afterwards, "and for me then it is easy -- if I don’t feel 100 percent then I want another girl to come in and give 100 percent, that’s easy. The team is better with another girl playing at 100 percent than me playing at I don’t know what kind of percent.”
Van de Sanden, the only player from French and European champion Olympique Lyonnais still alive in the World Cup, was so poor that Coach Sarina Wiegman finally benched the winger for the Sweden match in favor of Lineth Beerensteyn. Van de Sanden did get into the game in the 70th minute, however, and added a spark to the Dutch attack, forcing Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl into making a save late in regulation.
Van de Sanden was one of the heroes for the host Dutch at Euro 2017 where they capped off their run with a 4-2 win over Denmark in the final. Van de Sanden's play, like that of the Oranje in general, has come in for sharp criticism from the Dutch media, something Wiegman says her players simply have to ignore.
“Shanice is a very important player for all of us and for a long period of time she scored goals," said Wiegman, who played at North Carolina. "She assisted goals and now in this very tournament her performance is slightly lowered. However, the opponents are stronger as well and it’s difficult for her. The media is criticizing her a little bit too personal, however, the entire squad is facing criticism.”
Following the two semifinals, the Dutch media regarded the Orange performance a shadow of what the Americans produced against
England, but the Dutch players are still hopeful.
The backline in front of keeper Sari van Veenendaal has been steady, allowing only three goals in six games, and the midfield of Jackie Groenen, Danielle van de Donk and Sherida Spitse has been outstanding.
The USA will be heavily favored, which is what Van de Donk likes.
“I love being underdogs,” she said after Wednesday's win. “It’s the best role you can be in. I like it. I don’t know the English word but I don’t think they think we’re that good. Underestimate? Yes, that’s it. That is going to be an advantage for us.”
Netherlands at Women's World Cup:
Netherlands 1 New Zealand 0. (Roord 90+2. Att.: 10,654.)
Netherlands 3 Cameroon 1. (Miedema 41, 85, Bloodworth 48; Onguene 43. Att.: 22,423.)
Netherlands 2 Canada 1. (Dekker 54, Beerensteyn 75; Sinclair 60. Att.: 19,277.)
Netherlands 2 Japan 1. (Martens 17, pen. 90; Hasegawa 43. Att.: 21,076.)
Netherlands 2 Italy 0. (Miedema 70, van der Gragt 80. Att.: 22,600.)
Netherlands 1 Sweden 0. (Groenen 99. Att.: 48,452.)