The long and tumultuous football season for fans all around the world, one that saw a men’s World Cup wedged right into the middle of it, is still far from over. On Thursday, July 20, the Women’s World Cup begins with co-hosts New Zealand and Australia playing the first matches in their respective groups in what promises to be the biggest tournament in women’s football history.
The Dutch team will be hoping to go one better than in the last edition. Reaching the finals in France in 2019 before succumbing to a 2-0 defeat to the United States, the Netherlands will seek to put a disappointing Euro 2021 campaign behind them and start the tournament on the right foot.
National team captain Sherida Spitse sees this tournament as an opportunity “to show the world and our little country something beautiful,” as she told the NOS before flying over to New Zealand.
Frisian Sherida Spitse leads the team
The player in Dutch football history with the most matches played for the national team regardless of gender, Spitse will captain the side in a major tournament for the very first time in her career. Currently having played 216 official matches for the Netherlands, Spitse, who hails from Sneek in Friesland, is in a league of her own when it comes to the women’s game in the Netherlands.
In 2006, the historic midfielder made her debut for the national team aged just 16 years old, when she was still playing for VV Sneek’s boys’ team. She played in the inaugural Eredivisie Vrouwen season in 2007 for SC Heerenveen and has continued to shatter ceilings with each career move.
In 2013, after a successful spell at FC Twente, she became the first female player in the Netherlands to be bought when she joined Norwegian team LSK Kvinner. She has now returned to the Netherlands, captaining an Ajax side and hoping to make equally big waves in the women’s game as the club typically does in the men’s division.
One of the most decorated players in the whole tournament, Spitse has been a part of all of the Netherlands’ World Cup and Euro’s campaigns since 2006. Her experience, as well as her playmaking abilities, will be key for a country hoping to forget their World Cup miseries.
The history of the Leeuwinnen
Although the Netherlands is now one of the staples of international women’s football, that was not the case until recently. A decade ago, they had yet to qualify for a World Cup and they had only played in the Euros twice, despite the competition running since 1984.
Their fortunes turned once they made the full-time appointment of Sarina Wiegman as head coach. Part of the coaching staff since 2014, she was finally given the reigns to the job a mere six months prior to the 2017 Euros, which were being hosted in the Netherlands that same year.
Much to the surprise of everyone, the Leeuwinnen (the lionesses) took their shot as the host nation to lift the trophy, ending Germany’s run as six-time defending champions in the process.
They took all that momentum into the World Cup in France in 2019, reaching the final against the mighty USA team. Although they ultimately fell short, the women’s team inspired a football-starved nation that had grown tired of watching the men’s team fall well short of expectations.
Oranje has taken a hit since their historic run to the European title and World Cup final, due in at least some part to Weigman’s departure to coach England’s women’s national team. The Lionesses were defeated in the quarter-finals of their first-ever Olympic appearance in 2021, once again by the US, and crashed out at the Euros held in England in 2022, losing to France in the quarter-finals.
With the tournament set to begin this Thursday, new manager Andries Jonker has seemingly steadied things for the time being prior to their first match on Sunday, July 23.
Oranje’s run to the final
The Dutch lionesses will start their march towards the trophy against World Cup debutants Portugal. The Netherlands will then face the two-time defending champions, the United States, in a rematch of the 2019 final on the 27th of July which has been circled on everyone’s calendars since the group stage draw. They cap off their group against another tournament newcomer, Vietnam, on August 1st.
The Dutch team may not be considered among the favorites, but they’ve shocked the world before, such as when they lifted the European Championship in 2017. Spirits appear to be high in the camp and Oranje is ready to inspire the nation with another strong World Cup performance.