Netherlands' Women's World Cup dream is shattered – but it won't be their last chance at achieving it
Winning the final proved one step too far, but the Dutch will be back as they continue to chase Women’s World Cup glory
When the orange of the Netherlands flooded into France five weeks ago, a World Cup final was not expected to follow.
Their underwhelming 1-0 victory over New Zealand in Le Havre, sealed by substitute Jill Roord’s 92nd minute winner, was similar in many ways to their 1-0 win over Sweden in the semi-finals, which required extra time.
Jackie Groenen was the hero this time and it was a great goal, but it wasn’t one that will have struck fear in the United States, holders and three-time winners of the World Cup who had an extra rest day on them already.
Never were they expected to become the first team to break the Americans’ record of scoring inside the first 13 minutes of every game at the tournament, never mind be right in the game up until the hour – the time which marked Megan Rapinoe’s penalty and the start of the USA’s road to a 2-0 victory and fourth World Cup title.
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The Netherlands’ boss, Sarina Wiegman, had the benefit of watching six coaches before her try to out-tactic this winning machine.
Of particular interest to her will have been Phil Neville’s attempts with England in the semi-finals, and Jorge Vilda’s effort with Spain in the last 16.
From the former, she embraced the 4-2-3-1 set-up, choosing to deploy Vivanne Miedema behind the lightning pace of Lineth Beerensteyn and, in turn, bringing out the best performance from the Arsenal forward in this tournament.
It also brought out the best of the Dutch.
“We’ve got such a great counter attack. I think that’s our best thing,” said midfielder Danielle van de Donk after the Sweden win.
With the ever so slight tweak from their usual 4-3-3, and Miedema’s change of position, that much was clear.
On the back foot, that became a 4-4-1-1, the Oranje sitting deep and happy to let the USA dominate the game to give them what England lacked – defensive solidity.
After she had masterminded a victory in the Netherlands’ home Euros two years ago, Wiegman was showing her tactical nous here again.
The United States needed two penalties to beat Spain and defensive lapses to beat England. For the Netherlands to win this game, it was going to have to be an absolutely perfect performance.
When they were crowned European champions in 2017, it came down to a combination of team spirit, lack of expectation and unwavering home support.
The same recipe paved an unlikely path to the World Cup final. The Dutch tried their utmost in noise to make this feel like anything but the away game it was in numbers.
The American fans were here in huge numbers, surrounding the bright orange pockets of their opposing fans in the Stade de Lyon.
But the way that the Dutch have invaded France, doubling the population of Valenciennes when they packed out the Stade du Hainaut for a group stage win over Cameroon, is a great metaphor for the way their team have exploded onto the women’s football scene.
For a long time, the Netherlands have been one of the top teams in world football, three-time runners-up in the World Cup and European champions in 1988.
Their tactical and technical roots, inspired by the late and great Johan Cruyff, make them one of the most unique nations in the game – and now, women’s football is enjoying that.
At the moment, the Women’s World Cup is the USA’s stage and very rarely in France has it looked like the trophy would not be theirs once this 2019 edition came to an end.
But the Netherlands are here now. Nine of their 23 players at this tournament were 25 or under. They have reached two finals in two years – and the World Cup final in just their second appearance at the tournament.
Throw their football philosophy and history into the mix, as well as a young, exciting coach like Wiegman, and everyone should be excited.
And as the pockets of orange proudly waved their tricolour flags in the final moments of this showpiece, it was clear – they know this will not be their only shot at World Cup glory.