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Day 13: Dutch delight
Their nation might not be playing their best football, but the Dutch youngsters are here to impress
What Group C promised in excitement, it tooketh away in finishing almost exactly as would have been predicted before the Euros began. Portugal once again fell foul of ‘being required to defend a set piece’ and were easily beaten by Sweden 5-0. The Netherlands went 1-0 up against Switzerland but Ramona Bachmann once again hauled the Swiss back into it but they could not find the extra goal they needed. When Lia Wälti went off injured, it became carnage for the Swiss and the Netherlands tried but ultimately failed to catch Sweden’s goal difference, winning 4-1 in the end.
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The Netherlands have been a fascinating team to watch this Euros. They came into the tournament as the holders but, with five years having passed since their win, there was relatively little expectation around them. It somehow feels like aeons ago since they were playing in the 2019 World Cup final. Perceptions on them were understandably down, predominantly due to a rather leaky defence that had hindered their Olympic performances (although in the end they did only go out on penalties to the United States!) and caused them some problems in World Cup qualifying.
They are also going through something of a transitional period. Obviously Sarina Wiegman moved on to manage England in September but Mark Parsons was unable to take up the job as Dutch manager until later in the year, due to his existing commitments with the Portland Thorns. Meanwhile, the squad that had brought international success between 2017 and 2019 is slowly ageing out. Three players who participated in the 2019 final are not part of this Euro’s squad: Anouk Dekker, Desiree van Lunteren and Shanice van de Sanden. Meanwhile, Sari van Veenendaal and Sherida Spitse are getting to the end of their careers, and whilst Lieke Martens and Danielle van de Donk are remain players more than capable of playing at the highest level, they have also both just come back from long-term injuries.
So it is promising for the Dutch how well their younger players have performed. Fifteen players born in 1999 or later have scored so far at the Euros, three of whom are Dutch (Romée Leuchter, Victoria Pelova, and Damaris Egurrola). Only Germany have more with four (Klara Bühl, Lena Lattwein, Nicole Anyomi, Sophia Kleinherne). Romée Leuchter is also the youngest player at the Euros to have scored more than one goal, having nicked two at the end of the Netherlands’ win over Switzerland.
It is not only goals which these players have offered though. Pelova has been particularly impressive when has been on the pitch, showing great aptitude at protecting the ball and making clever passes to link up her teammates. Equally, the 18 year old Esmee Brugts might not have scored yet but has shown plenty of glimpses as to why she is so highly rated. It seemed fitting that as the Dutch battered the Swiss at the end of the game, it was their youngsters who were shining brightest. All three of Brugts, Leuchter and Pelova have shown they have the ability to make their mark on this Dutch side for plenty of years to come. A tricky quarter-final against France awaits the Netherlands, but regardless of where this tournament ends for them, do not bet on the Oranje slipping off the international stage.