Reigning European champions, the Netherlands avoided defeat in their round of 16 clash against Japan but they did so with the help of a deflected shot and a penalty that takes the handball law to the limit. Not looking the business since lofting the Euro trophy in Enschede two summers ago, things don’t seem to be improving for the Oranje in France, despite their progression.
Heading into their home tournament, the team was far from pristine and only really seemed to galvanise and pick up a head of steam after their first match – a narrow 1-0 win over a Norway team bound for an early exit. With the crowds swelling as the Dutch got behind their women’s team in record numbers, the nation made the 2017 a summer to remember.
Yet since the landmark tournament things haven’t been going as well for the Dutch. Held scoreless in World Cup qualification by the Republic of Ireland, their second 1-0 home win over Norway within a year gave them a narrow advantage going into the last game of qualification. Needing only a win, the Oranje were put on their backs early on and found themselves unable to comeback from a two-goal deficit. Successfully knocking out an under-performing Denmark in their first play-off the Dutch were boosted against a Swiss team missing its most important two players.
Many hoped that when Sarina Wiegman’s team got to France, the pieces of the puzzle would slot into place as they had in that first match in Utrecht. However, the team had continued to under-perform. Wiegman’s favoured starting XI rarely changes, injuries the decisive factor, form seemingly irrelevant. Although the team doesn’t possess the most depth of the teams at the World Cup, there are other options available to the coach, other formations than 4-3-3, yet little ever changes.
Even in at the Stade du Hainault in Valenciennes (little more than 100km directly south of the Dutch border town Philippine, or less than a three-hour drive from Breda), with the stadium flooded with orange, the team remained absent. Playing the closest thing to a home-match at a major tournament, the same issues that have stalked the team around since the Euros showed themselves on the pitch.
With everyone still thinking the European champions will suddenly turn it on and find the same swagger from the 2017 tournament, it’s time to look at the facts. After four matches in France, the Netherlands have barely shown their calibre or potential – potential that they have in abundance. But the squad have at least avoided drawing a previous finalist with a clash against Italy next up. Returning to Valenciennes for their quarterfinal tie, the army of orange support may yet spark something in the team but as it stands, it’s hard to see where this team will draw on inspiration from.
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