Women's World Cup 2019

Netherlands back in winning groove

The Netherlands, who have won all their World Cup matches so far, in training ahead of their semi-final against Sweden today. The Dutch made it to the last 16 four years ago. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Netherlands, who have won all their World Cup matches so far, in training ahead of their semi-final against Sweden today. The Dutch made it to the last 16 four years ago. PHOTO: REUTERS

LYON • Such has been the ascendancy of the Netherlands women's football team that the Oranje fans are expecting nothing less than a maiden World Cup triumph.

Four years ago, the team made their event debut after decades of languishing in the wilderness.

They have built on their last-16 appearance in Canada, becoming European champions for the first time in 2017 and their ranking as the eighth-best side in the world belies their reputation as the sport's most improved team.

And ahead of today's semi-final against Sweden in Lyon, Vivianne Miedema believes the Dutch have yet to play their "best football" despite a 100 per cent record in the group phase.

The Arsenal striker, who is her country's all-time top scorer with 60 goals, said: "At the Euros, no one expected a lot from us and, once we started winning, our country stood behind us and we got in that flow.

"When we came here, in Holland, everyone said we would be world champions and that gave us a lot of pressure.

"The first couple of games, we didn't always play the best, but we still got nine points and we're still in the semi-finals now so you can say we are back in that flow."

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN BARRIER

When you are fuelled by adrenaline, you can do a lot... It was a roller coaster - maybe no, maybe yes - but I always believed I would play.

LIEKE MARTENS, Netherlands midfielder, eager to play on despite her injury.

Such confidence does not bode well for Sweden, who after ending their 24-year losing streak against Germany in the quarter-finals, have another bogey side to overcome at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

The Scandinavians were knocked out of Euro 2017 by the Dutch, losing 2-0 in the quarter-finals, and they will also be missing suspended key forward Fridolina Rolfo today.

While the Oranje are gunning for another win, they are, however, sweating on Barcelona midfielder Lieke Martens' ability to continue to play through the pain barrier - just like she did against Italy in the previous round.

She suffered a toe injury while celebrating her winner in the last-16 meeting with Japan, leaving coach Sarina Wiegman with little choice but to wrap the player in cotton wool.

Despite undergoing little training before the match-up with the Azzurre, Martens was able to play the entire 90 minutes and Wiegman is again counting on her to put her body on the line.

She said: "Lieke has had this injury for quite a long time, but she had more problems with her toe after the Japan game. She managed to play against Italy and the toe did not get any worse, so let's hope she will be able to play."

Martens is also determined not to let the problem stop her from playing.

"When you are fuelled by adrenaline, you can do a lot," she said. "As we head towards Wednesday, it's going to be very much the same as it was before the Italy game for me.

"It was a roller coaster - maybe no, maybe yes - but I always believed I would play. The pain is still there but, if I was able to play on Saturday, I can play again on Wednesday."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

NETHERLANDS V SWEDEN
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Netherlands back in winning groove'. Print Edition | Subscribe