LYON, France — The Netherlands is one of the best stories of this World Cup, reaching Sunday’s final just a decade after it qualified for its first major international tournament.
Here are some things you should know about the U.S. women’s opponent:
Not much history
This will be only the eighth time the U.S. women have played the Netherlands, and the first game since 2016.
The teams met for the first time in 1991, the only game the Dutch have won. The U.S. has won the last six meetings, posting shutouts in four of them. The Americans have won the last two games by 3-1 scores.
The Netherlands is one of the few teams that doesn’t have anyone who plays in the NWSL, either. All of the Dutch players are based in Europe, playing for clubs in England, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden and, of course, the Netherlands.
The Dutch might not be at full strength for the World Cup final.
Lieke Martens, the Netherlands’ star midfielder, is nursing a toe injury that forced her to come off at halftime of the semifinal against Sweden. Martens was hurt when a teammate stepped on her foot during the celebration of their 2-1 win over Japan in the round of 16.
Martens scored both goals in the game, including a penalty kick in the final seconds.
“Didn’t feel good,” Martens said when asked about her foot after the Sweden game.
Martens has not trained since getting hurt, focusing on recovery instead. But the Dutch have only three days’ rest before Sunday’s final, compared with four for the U.S.
“As a player, you always want to play the biggest game of your career and this one of the biggest ones I hopefully am going to play,” she said. “I’m going to do the recovery. I really believe in the medical staff.”
While Vivianne Miedema has been tremendousand Lineth Beerensteyn has impressed, too, not having Martens would be a huge loss for the Dutch. The winger was both FIFA and Europe’s player of the year in 2017. She can score goals, but it’s her runs up the flanks that make her dangerous, opening space and creating opportunities for her teammates.
“I don’t know. She had a hard time,” Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman said after the semifinal. “We’ll see over the next couple of days.”
TheNetherlands will bring a 12-game winning streakat major international tournaments into the World Cup final.
The Dutch were the surprise winners of the European championship in 2017, winning all three games in the group stage and then knocking off Sweden, England and Denmark in the knockout rounds to claim the title. In France, they also won all three games in the group stage before beating Japan (round of 16), Italy (quarterfinals) and Sweden (semifinals).
That’s quite a stretch, especially when you consider the Dutch had never played in a major tournament before 2009. This is only their second World Cup appearance.
“Going into a tournament, you want to win,”Wiegman said. “But given the history and the phase we’re in, you know the chances are pretty low of you winning. Now, all of the sudden, we’re playing the final. So that’s fantastic.”
The roots of the Netherlands’ current success can be traced back to North Carolina.
Anson Dorrance, the legendary Tar Heels coach, sawWiegman at an international tournament and invited her to play for North Carolina. She took him up on the offer, playing alongside Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly as the Tar Heels won the national title in 1989.
Though Wiegman returned to the Netherlands, her time in the U.S. made an impression. She pushed for better facilities as she worked her way up the coaching ranks, and has instilled a tougher mentality in the Dutch since taking over as head coach of the national team in January 2017.
“Being in the States myself, that definitely had an impact,” Wiegman said after the semifinal win. “The American culture is very much about hard work. That’s different than our culture. If you want to win from a country like that, you need to fight. And you need to position yourself. And you need to battle it out and then score that goal.”
It’s been impossible to miss the Dutch fans at the World Cup.
Wearing orange and parading through the streets, the Dutch fans have taken over every city the Netherlands has played in. These are friendly takeovers, however, with the Dutch welcoming anyone and everyone – even fans of their opponents to their traveling party.
Once in the stadium, the Dutch fans sing and sway in unison to their band. This is no ordinary band, either. It has a horn section,and has added in the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”and horse racing’s Call to Post to the traditional songs you might expect to hear at a stadium.
It’s the kind of support that’s been seen at men’s World Cups for years, and it has not gone unnoticed.
“It’s so cool to see,” U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan said Friday. “That’s so great for the women’s game. That’s how it should be. You see that in men’s World Cups, all the fans traveling everywhere to come support. So when you see that from their fans and our fans, that’s what makes the games so much more special, that atmosphere.”
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