So the future really was orange, we just did not realise the gender would be female. While the once-lauded Dutch men’s team now struggle to even qualify for tournaments the women yesterday won the nation’s first trophy since 1988.
A dramatic, absorbing finale was finally settled when Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema scored her second goal two minutes from time. With five wins from five this was a triumph as deserved as it was unexpected. A gender triumph, too, for Sarina Weigman, one of six female coaches in the 16-team tournament, who ensured the big prizes - World Cup, Olympics and Euros - remain in female coaches’ hands. But it was a triumph mostly for the Dutch women’s football, which now has a place in the hearts of a country that barely knew it existed four weeks ago.
All weekend the roads and trains heading to this small city on the Netherlands’ eastern border with Germany had been busy with orange-clad supporters. The Oude Markt in Enschede’s town centre was abuzz from mid-morning before thousands joined the three-mile Fan March to the stadium.
They arrived to discover their team were fielding the same XI that defeated Sweden, then England, in the knock-out stages, with ten having also played in the 1-0 group match victory over Denmark. There were eight Danish survivors from that game in Rotterdam, won by a Sherida Spitse penalty, and nine from the penalty shoot-out semi-final defeat of Austria.
This meant while there were three Arsenal and one Liverpool player in the Dutch team, and two more WSL representatives coming off the bench, the Danes had no UK-based players with Manchester City’s Mie Leth Jans injured in the group stages. A similar fate befell her Dutch club-mate Tessel Middag before the finals and the midfielder admitted this week she has found watching the games ‘hard’.
She was not alone once this match started as both sets of supporters found themselves aboard a rollercoaster of ecstasy and despair. The match was barely five minutes old when Nadia Nadim miscontrolled a loose ball. Kika van Es also missed it and Sarah Troelsgaard ran into and leapt over her thigh. As dives go it was a masterpiece, proof that as the women’s game matures players will perfect the dark arts of the men’s game as well as the skills.
The responsibility of taking it fell to Nadim. Pressure? Not when you have escaped the escaped the Taliban after your father’s execution and forged a new life in Europe. The Afghan-born striker tucked the spot-kick away.
The lead lasted four minutes. Danish coach Nils Nielsen knew Shanice van de Sanden was a key threat, she has been all tournament, but dealing with it was another matter. The Liverpool winger flew past Cecille Sandvej, cut the ball back, and Miedema levelled neatly for her third goal in as many games.
From another van de Sanden break Stina Lykke Petersen denied Lieke Martens but the Barcelona striker would not be kept at bay for long. Receiving beautifully on the edge of the box to lose Maja Kildemoes she turned to shoot past Pedersen and in off the post.
Again the scores were level within five minutes. Danielle van de Donk was robbed by Theresa Nielsen, Kildemoes took possession, and released Pernille Harder. The Wolfsburg striker had timed her run perfectly and she drove forward, cut inside past Dekker, then drilled a shot past Van Veenendaal.
Thrilling first halfs are often followed by dull second periods as the coaches reassert defensive control, but five minutes after the break the Dutch were ahead again. As against Sweden, Sherida Spitse took advantage of a poorly positioned goalkeeper to roll in a free-kick.
Petersen redeemed herself with a stunning save from Miedema keeping Denmark in the game, and they came close to equalising through Katrine Veje’s 64th-minute snap-shot. But the Dutch had too much for them, too much, nous, energy and, ultimately, fire-power. With two minutes left Miedema went through to score her second and the Netherlands went wild with joy.
Netherlands: Van Veenendaal (Arsenal); Van Lunteren (Ajax), Dekker (Montpellier), Van der Gragt (Ajax), Van Es (Twente); Groenen (Frankfurt), Van de Donk (Arsenal), Spitse (Twente); Van de Sanden (Liverpool), Miedema (Arsenal), Martens (Barcelona).
Subs: Janssen (Arsenal) for Lunteren, 58; Jansen (Twente Enschede) for van de Sanden, 89; Van den Berg (Reading) for Van Es, 90.
Denmark: Petersen (Kolding); Nielsen (Valerenga), Boye Sorensen (Rosengard), Larsen (Brondby), Sandvej (Frankfurt); Troelgaard (Rosengard), Kildemoes (Lindkopings), Junge Pedersen (Rosengard), Veje (Montpellier); Harder (Wolfsburg), Nadim (Portland Thorns).
Sub: Thorgorsen (Fortuna Hjorring) for Kildemoes, 60; Roddik Hansen (Barcelona) for Boye Sorensen, 77; Christiansen (Rosengard) for Junge Pederesen, 82.
Referee: E Staubli (Switzerland)
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