LEIGH, England — With their fans out in force in the lead up to the game, the Netherlands entered Wednesday’s clash as favourites in Group C. However, it was Portugal who stole the night, despite the final result.
Having been tipped for the Women’s European Championship title, and being reigning champions, you’d expect similar displays from the Netherlands as England performed against Norway — or even Germany against Spain — but that wasn’t to be found.
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The Dutch were missing their talisman, Vivianne Miedema, and it showed. Even with the Arsenal striker in the side, they struggled against Sweden in their first game to get a cohesive attack together. After the Sweden game, coach Mark Parsons admitted that it was Miedema who suggested a change at half-time to give them the upper hand.
“Yeah I just asked Viv her thoughts and went from there,” he said.
Her response was quick: “I’ll just do whatever Mark tells me to do.”
Miedema absence was even more pronounced on Wednesday against Portugal, a team that had few players in the professional leagues but showed why they deserved their place in the tournament. For the opening 20 minutes — in which they had a ball in the net that was ruled out — A Seleccao were dictating play. Two quick, easy goals had Parsons’ side up 2-0 against the run of play — a position that should have pushed them on to an easier win — but they took their foot off the pedal.
The Dutch may have eked out a 3-2 win in the end, but the display against Portugal — combined with the heavy 5-1 loss to England before the tournament — begs the question of where this Dutch team is at?
Anyone who has watched Miedema over the last few years knows the important role she plays on the pitch in terms of dictating play, but this tournament has shown how important her voice on the pitch is. Whenever Sweden were in control, she was the one pulling the team together to make sure they weren’t dropping their guard and that was lacking against Portugal. They arguably escaped purely because of a moment of magic from Danielle van de Donk.
“I was very happy with that [the goal]. Especially for the team, because we fought very hard. So I think it is deserved. I almost never score goals like this so I am very happy with it,” Van de Donk said after the game.
Most people wouldn’t have thought of this Dutch team needing to push against a team like Portugal. But it possibly speaks to a star individualism in the team that Parsons needs to address.
“We take the point and put Viv in the fridge and go from here,” was Parsons reply to their draw against Sweden — also among the favourites in the tournament.
But when they didn’t have Miedema to rely on, against a team they easily should have beaten, the Dutch struggled. It leaves questions as to how the previous champions will deal with harsher competition in the latter stages of the tournament.