With the Netherlands sitting on the brink of qualifying for the quarter-finals in their first appearance in a UEFA Women's European Championship final tournament, coach Vera Pauw has described the Oranje's concluding Group A fixture with Denmark as "the biggest game" in the national team's history.
The Dutch participated in three two-legged quarter-finals in the late 1980s and early 1990s but, prior to reaching UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™, had not come close to reaching the competition proper since the format was changed for the 1997 edition. Moreover, while getting to Finland was certainly a landmark for women's football in the Netherlands, gaining the draw they require to finish as runners-up in the section would not only break new ground in sporting terms, it would also take media coverage of the team back home to new heights.
"It's the biggest game in the history of the national team," Pauw, who expects to have a full squad to pick from despite several knocks, told uefa.com. "If we qualify for the knockout stage, we've been promised that our games will be televised on national TV. At the moment footage is only available on Eurosport and on the internet, not on the main channels. It will be the first time there will have been women's football televised live so the impact [of qualifying] will be huge."
Pauw is nonetheless aware that her team will have to play above themselves if they are to stand a chance of getting a result against a country which has a rich history of reaching the latter stages of tournaments. "We know where we stand – Denmark are so far ahead of us and we know we need to have a top, top day to have a chance."
Denmark trail their opponents on goal difference and would also progress as one of the two best third-placed teams with a draw. Rather ominously for the Netherlands, Kenneth Heiner-Møller says there is much more to come from his team after taking three points from their first two matches. "We haven't reached our peak yet," he said. "We have improved a little bit and hopefully the confidence gained from getting three points [against Ukraine] will take us to another level."
That said, the 38-year-old has warned his side to be on their guard against the Dutch attacking trio of Manon Melis, their seven-goal leading scorer in qualifying, Kirsten van de Ven and Karin Stevens. "They were surprising against Ukraine [when they won 2-0 on Matchday 1]; I didn't expect them to be so good on the counterattack."
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