Mark Parsons’ Holland side arrive in England ahead of their July 9 opening fixture against Sweden with mountains of expectation behind them.
Going into the 2017 edition of the European Championship, expectation for the Dutch women’s team was low. Sarina Wiegman, now in charge of this year’s hosts England, had only taken charge six months prior.
Build up to that tournament was iffy, at best. Losing four out of the last five friendlies before Wiegman took over and then losing games to France and Japan in the months immediately prior to the tournament.
Holland go into the tournament as one of the fancied teams as the holders of the competition
Mark Parsons has a lot on his plate to ensure his side replicate their performances of 2017-19
The Dutch went on to win that tournament, thriving off their home atmosphere with the likes of Vivianne Miedema and Lieke Martens, who was awarded player of the tournament, thriving.
The team reached the final of the World Cup two years later in France, where they would eventually lose to the USWNT. Despite that defeat, the appearance in the final still signified a remarkable turnaround in the Holland women’s team fortunes in a little over two years.
Such performances take the holders into this year’s Women’s European Championship as one of the favourites, albeit with question marks hanging over them.
Aniek Nouwen and Sherida Spitse (L to R) are likely to play key roles for Holland this summer
For starters, their head coach has changed. Wiegman left her role last year to take over England allowing the Englishman Parsons to step in.
How they cope, having won one tournament and reached the final of the other in their last two, under the tutelage of Parsons during a major competition is ultimately a question that can only be answered in the coming month.
In the aftermath of his side’s 5-1 defeat to England last week, Parsons told the media that England were favourites for the tournament.
‘I think England will be favourites in the Euros with where they are at, the quality of players, the home crowd and the resources the WSL has been putting in,’ he said. ‘With the work the clubs have been doing, when you add that up it’s very hard to see them not as favourites.’
Vivianne Miedema is the key player for Holland and will have to be on form for Holland to fire
For the first time ever, Holland won the UEFA Women’s Euro in 2017 under Sarina Wiegman
It was hard not to view these words as a deflection tactic for his team, an attempt to withdraw as much pressure off the shoulders of his players as possible. There is little doubt in the football world that his side have it within them to win the tournament.
In a group containing Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland, only the Swedes should really have the potential to cause the Dutch major issues and as such players should still be fresh heading into the latter stages of the tournament.
Sweden won last year’s Olympics, beating a USA team on their way to the Gold medal match who Holland narrowly lost to on penalties in the quarter-finals of the competition. They are likely to be a team that is underestimated by most and the Dutch cannot afford to fall into such a trap.
Having scored 48 goals across their 10 games in qualifying, the Dutch forward line is an area where they hope to hurt teams.
Miedema, the Arsenal star who is widely considered to be one of the best players at the tournament, is a player Holland will look to in key moments.
Ecstasy turned to agony as they were beaten 2-0 by the USA in the World Cup final in 2019
Vivianne Miedema and Jill Roord celebrate together after the striker became Holland’s all-time leading goalscorer
Miedema’s goals across the 2017 tournament, when she scored four times, as well as at the 2019 World Cup, when she bagged three goals, were influential for the Dutch.
The forward, who likes to think of herself more as a playmaker, is the all-time leading scorer for the Holland women’s national team with 92 goals in 110 games. She is only 25.
Speaking ahead of the tournament, Miedema has said that she hopes this is the tournament that will put the women’s game on the map. This includes, she begrudgingly admits, England performing well.
‘This summer is probably one of the biggest chances to put women’s football on the map,’ she said. ‘I hate to say it, but I want to see England do well because it will get people to the stadium, it will make the country itself feel really ali
Sarina Wiegman had an enormous impact on the fortunes of the Dutch women’s national side
Likely to deploy a 4-3-3 shape, Miedema is likely to be flanked by Jill Roord, who left Arsenal for Wolfsburg last summer and Lieke Martens, the Paris Saint Germain forward who scored a total of five goals across the 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup.
Martens returning from injury just in time should provide Holland with the sort of boost that is so invaluable prior to international tournaments.
It is a forward line that boasts Champions League-quality players and will strike fear into any defence.
Mark Parsons labelled England favourites for the Euros after they were beaten at Elland Road
Wiegman installed a mentality of attacking adventurous football into the Dutch team and this is something that has continued. Its midfield is influential in games, looking to control them and ferry the ball forward to ensure the forward line can do the damage.
With versatile players, the formation can change and the likes of Roord can drop back to form a part of the midfield three. However, it is likely Parsons will go with the settled midfield that saw the Dutch through their recent World Cup qualifier against Belarus.
Jackie Groenen, the dynamic Manchester United central midfielder, will be deployed on the right-hand side. She is a veteran of the 2017 and 2019 teams and is a real lieutenant.
Jackie Groenen is likely to be deployed in midfield and will be expected to provide energy
Alongside her is likely to be Victoria Pelova, a young midfielder who has emerged through the Ajax youth ranks to form a key part of the women’s national team. A multi-sport youngster who excelled at chess and skiing, Pelova chose football and it was to the ultimate benefit of her country.
The midfield gap that appeared to emerge in aftermath of 2019 was plugged by a player who was at the tournament but whose role was limited to few games. Expect her to be one of the more inexperienced stars on display to make a splash.
The absence of Danielle Van De Donk for much of the season after she moved to Lyon had many questioning whether she would make the Euros. However, her determination has seen her make the squad and it will be interesting for how long she is deemed fit to play.
Sarina Wiegman’s revolution of Dutch women’s football is why the FA have brought her in
Holland have received an almighty boost after Lieke Martens won her race to be fit
Parsons opted for Sherida Spitse from the start against Belarus in the country’s World Cup qualifier, but Van De Donk could be expected to fill in at some stage. Like the players in the forward line, she is versatile. It would be some story, the former Arsenal player returning from yet another injury, were she to have a big say on this tournament.
As with qualifying across both men and women’s football, for the major nations it is usually a cakewalk. So it proved for Holland.
Across their ten games not only did they score 4.8 goals per game, they only conceded three across the games altogether.
A settled backline is key for any nation heading into a tournament and Holland have that. Three defenders from the 2019 World Cup squad have survived to make it to 2022: Stefanie Van der Gragt, Merel van Dongen and Dominique Janssen.
Danielle van de Donk is another who is available despite concerns over her fitness
It is like Van der Gragt will start in the centre of defence alongside Chelsea centre-back Aniek Nouwen.
The 23-year-old joined Chelsea last summer and was influential in them retaining their Women’s Super League crown. In front of largely-English crowds, she is a player likely to grab plenty of attention.
The fullbacks more or less select themselves with Lynn Wilms and Janssen filling in on the right and left, respectively.
Meanwhile, stalwart goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal captains the side.
The Dutch have done well to refresh their side since the successes of 2017 and 2019 while keeping a core group together that has enough where-with-all about it to now how to get the job done at the crucial stages.
As with 2017 and 2019, they appear to have been underestimated by a few which is only likely to spur them on.
Defender Stefanie van der Gragt will be expected to marshall the defence and aerial threats
Parsons concluded after the England defeat that the defeat was his fault and that he would be taking responsibility.
‘I heard outside the individuals and players being a bit negative of themselves and I can’t accept that because the situation and the circumstances were not putting the players in a position to succeed. It was putting them in a very tough place,’ he said.
‘We wanted to avoid this outcome,’ he went on to add. ‘Now, we’ve got to face it. And we’ve got a choice.
‘We can start pulling away from each other — that just doesn’t exist in this group — or it’s going to pull us tighter. I’d put a lot of money that we’re going to be tighter and stronger from it.’
Having been underestimated before, the Dutch know better than to write themselves off.