The 2017 champion wouldn’t mind going to the European Championships as an underdog

Sari van Veenendaal listens to national coach Mark Parsons during a training session in France in February.AFP photo

Sari van Vindal didn’t want to go back to the lead-up to 2017, the time before Dutch women were European champions. It’s not that bad anymore. “But if you ask me if I want to play anonymously on the field,” the goalkeeper says. “Sure, I can enjoy myself when no one is looking at me.”

Five years after winning the European Championship in their home country, the Netherlands is grabbing another chance to win the European title in July, and now in England. Yesterday the preparations began at Zest with a small club of ten women, the other players will join next week. The tournament is Veenendaal’s sixth international tournament. She’s been engaged since 2013, but especially since she was three years old, everything has changed.

“2017 was really a turning point,” she said after the first training. Women really wanted to put women’s football on the map at the time. It has succeeded more than that. They have become a role model for many young girls. The Eindhoven goalkeeper is proud of that.

“But it made everything more serious,” says van Veenendaal. I’m excited, and I want to be the best anyway, but other things have been added as well. For example, fame. I think that’s great for the sport, and for me, yes, maybe less awesome.

With that said, van Veenendaal wanted there to be “a lot” from the start. You think that’s the best part, as she starts slowly, it’s good that she hasn’t been too busy yet. “But it’s mainly for myself, I want to do everything to be able to play a good European Championship.”

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Of course, more attention is paid to the reigning European champion than to the outsider who was the Netherlands in 2017. That has changed, too. Then the pressure itself was imposed, and it is now there, but expectations from the outside world were added.

National coach Mark Parsons is trying to de-escalate the situation considerably. “We’ve taken a few steps back, and we have to show once again that we can take a step forward,” Sarina Wegmann’s successor said when the selection was announced.

The English player significantly renewed his selection with eight players who had not previously participated in the tournament. According to the national coach, the Netherlands are in a group of six countries that could win the European Championship, but there are others at the moment. He expects a lot from England, Sweden, France, Spain and relatively young Germany.

Van Veenendaal also says: “I don’t necessarily want to put us in the position of the underdog, but we have to keep seeing the reality. I think a lot has happened around us. The best countries, the major leagues, the players that have developed have been added. Everything comes close together.”

In any case, the truth is that the upward trend of Dutch women has been shattered in recent years. After the 2017 European Championships, the Netherlands won the silver medal in the 2019 World Cup, after which the result was a bit disappointing at the Olympics. The Netherlands were eliminated in the quarter-finals, albeit by a narrow margin against the United States, who later reached the finals.

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“I don’t think we’ve taken any steps back,” says Meryl van Dongen, who has competed in the last four slams. “But other countries have entered stage five. That in and of itself is only good for women’s football, of course. †

The Atletico Madrid defender admitted that the Netherlands are not the favourite. At the same time, he doesn’t tell her that much either. It also comes down to whether you can do well in the final tournaments. We have already shown that. We will absolutely defend this title with everything in our body, but of course it is true that other countries will also go to that cup.

Yesterday’s training wasn’t much to read. Some rondos, passes, kicks and partying in between looking at your new red training uniform is a bit uncomfortable. Parsons said players should enjoy the sun above all else. According to Van Veenendaal, he has been very disappointed that it has rained so much in the past two weeks. “But I guess as an Englishman he can’t say much about that.”

In the run-up to the European Championship, the Netherlands are still playing training matches against England in Leeds and Finland at Enschede. In between, the postponed World Cup match against Belarus must be completed. The first group match against Sweden, one of the favorites, is waiting for the 9th of July.

Van Veenendaal hopes that “the biggest contenders can’t do well and vice versa”. “I don’t want to make any harsh statements about our chances, I don’t think that’s good for us. We just have to do everything we can to ensure that we can shine again in the tournament.

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