The Netherlands reached the UEFA Women's EURO 2009 semi-finals on their major tournament debut four years ago and will have a job in Sweden next month to match that – but Manon Melis could be just the person to inspire it.
Melis is familiar with Swedish conditions having finished top scorer three times in the Damallsvenskan for FC Malmö, with whom she won the title in 2010 and 2011, followed by another goal-laded spell at Linköpings FC. Now back at Malmö, who she first joined in 2007, Melis scored eight goals in qualifying as the Netherlands made it to Sweden as best runners-up. She speaks to UEFA.com about living up to their 2009 achievement and how they are now a more attacking team.
UEFA.com: What impressed you most about the Netherlands in qualifying?
Manon Melis: We did a really good job. Until the game against England we were leading the group, and we lost the game against England away, a little bit of a silly goal against us, but we qualified directly, and that was one of our goals. So I am proud that we qualified directly.
UEFA.com: What gives you most confidence about the team?
Melis: We have the experience of four years ago, many girls are still here. We are four years older, a lot more experience, so I think we really are a team, and that is the most important thing. We have no stars; we are a team.
UEFA.com: What does it mean for you to play at a Women's EURO?
Melis: For me it is important, of course, but it's really important for the team. Four years ago we qualified for the first time; now it is the second time we've played a big tournament like this. It is really important for the women's soccer in Holland that we qualified, not only for us but also for the younger players who play in the younger teams, upcoming stars.
UEFA.com: What do you think about your group?
Melis: Germany are a great team, and Iceland and Norway, Scandinavian teams, they play a harder type of football than us. But I see a chance for us.
UEFA.com: How is the Netherlands team different to four years ago, obviously you have got a different coach now, and maybe more experience; how do you differ?
Melis: Four years ago we had a really young team, with no experience. I think we were defending the whole time, [it was] our tactic. It was good for us, because we couldn't be better. But now we have grown and we have a new coach, a new tactic, and we want to dominate more. So I see just positive things right now.
UEFA.com: Thinking back to four years ago, what are your key memories of that time in Finland?
Melis: The France [quarter-final went to] penalty kicks, and we were so relieved after it. [Ahead of] the tournament nobody knew in Holland that we were in a EURO, and then after that game there was so much more interest and TV programmes, the sports news came and, you know, it was big for us, for soccer in Holland. And yes, that was the most positive thing.
UEFA.com: Is there more pressure now because people do know about the team and do know that you are capable of going a long way?
Melis: I don't feel pressure actually, we maybe we put it on ourselves. We want to have a good performance in the EURO, yes. But I don't think all the other people expect a lot of us.
UEFA.com: How has the game become more professional in the last few years? What has changed?
If I look at the Netherlands, when I started to play it was not really cool to play as a girl. But when I left for Sweden they started a professional league in Holland. So that's just so positive, that there is a professional league for the girls. And now it is improving more and more, and more teams are coming: right now there is a Holland-Belgium league. It is positive for the game, but it takes time to improve the football.
UEFA.com: What was your feeling when you first got to play for the Netherlands and pull that shirt on?
Melis: It's really a long time ago, but I remember my first game. It was when I was 14, for the Under-17s. It was against Germany, so we lost 4-0 or 5-0. But I felt really proud that I played for my country. Then of course when I played my first game for the national team, the A team, it was a really good feeling, like finally reaching my goal.
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