When the Netherlands reached the semi-finals of UEFA Women's EURO 2009 in Finland, they were simply happy to have upset the odds on their maiden appearance at this level. Four years on, captain Daphne Koster said the fast-improving Dutch feel they can create a still greater surprise in Sweden.
"We believe we can do a big thing, more than in 2009. Our focus is the final, but it's a hard job to get there," the AFC Ajax defender said just over 24 hours before she and her team-mates launch into their Group B campaign against Germany. "We believe in ourselves, in our power. That's the main thing for us: belief. It's grown in recent games."
Self-confidence within the Dutch squad was swelled by a qualifying campaign in which only fellow finalists England took points from them. The route towards the final in Solna on 28 July is a hazardous one, though, with the biggest obstacle of all, the six-time defending champions, barring the way from the outset.
A chastening 5-0 defeat by Silvia Neid's all-dominant side prior to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup remains fresh in the memory and is enough to induce caution in the Oranje Leeuwinnen ahead of their first meeting with their neighbours at this level. The four successive wins Neid has enjoyed against the Dutch since her 2005 appointment merely highlight the steepness of the uphill task ahead. Koster, however, insisted a newborn resolve within the Dutch squad meant there would be no air of resignation at the Växjö Arena.
"We have a mission. We see something on the horizon. We have to get better and better and in order to do that we have to play against top-class teams, which we've done this season," said the centre-back, whose nation secured a promising draw with France in October before a valiant 3-1 defeat by the USA in April. "There wasn't the kind of pressure in those games that we'll experience at this tournament, though. So this is another step to becoming a world-class team, which is what we want to do in the Netherlands."
Even the injury-enforced withdrawal of defender Mandy van den Berg and the 11th-hour knee ligament problem which has left Marlous Pieëte on the sidelines will not derail the plans carefully put in place by coach Roger Reijners, nor dampen morale. "This group is so mature that we can handle that," Koster said. "For now, there is a lot of attention on that. We have to deal with it, but after a short while we have to go on. We're on a train that keeps moving. It's a pity, but we have to move on; that's our focus."
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