The Netherlands came of age with their run to the UEFA Women's EURO 2009 semi-finals and now prepare to face the team that eliminated them, England, in Zwolle on Thursday.
Roger Reijners' side lead the way in 2013 qualifying Group 6 after Saturday's 3-0 win in Croatia followed a 6-0 defeat of a Serbia team who had days earlier held England 2-2. Manon Melis, having just finished as the Swedish league's top scorer for the second year running in helping FC Malmö retain the title, has played a large part in the Netherlands' flying start with five of their nine goals, including four against Serbia.
"It is a great feeling to score four goals, I had never done that before for the national team," Melis said, though she knows FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finalists England will not yield so readily. "England are tough opponents, who you cannot beat too easily. But with this team a lot is possible. We are working towards the match in high spirits. I don't think we will start as underdogs."
Coach Reijners took over during World Cup qualifying from Vera Pauw, who had masterminded the 2009 run on the country's major finals debut. "
We realise that against England something different is required from us," he said. "It will be a different type of match. An important one, but also a nice one.
"Reaching the EURO 2009 semi-finals was a great performance which resulted in a lot of interest in women's and girl's football. With this Dutch national women's team we want to become regulars at big tournaments. Direct qualification for EURO 2013 in Sweden is the next big challenge. For that we need to finish top of the group. Beside the result, we also want to distinguish ourselves by playing good football."
England manager Hope Powell, meanwhile, is without injured captain Faye White as well as Kelly Smith, a woman who has undone the Netherlands more than once in the past. "Holland are in a far better place than they have been in recent years and their 6-0 win over Serbia will have boosted their confidence," Powell told theFA.com. "This is an important game because we dropped two points against Serbia and we will be going for the win, but we know we will need to be at our best."
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