Netherlands coach Johan van Heertum may be new to the game compared with some of his UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship qualifying rivals, but he knows just what to expect when his side come up against France in the second stage.
It is little more than a year since Van Heertum replaced Jordan-bound Hesterine de Reus at the Netherlands helm yet Les Bleuettes have already become familiar opponents. The Dutch lost to the then holders in last season's second qualifying round, though any disappointment was eased by the knowledge that a 1-0 scoreline was nevertheless sufficient to take them through to last summer's finals on a three-way head-to-head also including Denmark.
A subsequent November friendly ended 2-2, with France twice coming from behind to earn a share of the spoils – so Van Heertum is not overstating matters when he says the teams have "no secrets from each other". It will make April's rematch, in the 2011/12 second qualifying round, a tasty proposition. Nor for that matter are the Jong Oranje, who will host the mini-tournament, taking anything for granted regarding their other Group 3 opponents: Romania and Iceland.
That caution is in part born from their experience at last summer's finals, when the Netherlands bowed out after mustering one point in three group games. "We tried to be dominant," explained Van Heertum, "to impose ourselves, but it was very difficult because we want to play through the midfield and there was a lot of pressure against Spain, Norway and Germany – we were not satisfied."
The 46-year-old is sticking to his attacking philosophy, however, underlining the fact that five of last season's vintage are already in and around the senior national setup. "We want to create a dominant style of play," he added. "Of course there is still much to be done, for sure, and we had problems in the first round." Indeed, after conceding three goals in the last five minutes in a 4-2 Group 1 defeat by Norway, the Netherlands advanced only as runners-up.
Another setback came when the Oranje lost 3-1 to England in another November friendly, but Van Heertum's optimism remains undimmed. "Female soccer in the Netherlands is marching on and on," he said. "With us hosting the second qualifying round, I expect good matches and a good atmosphere."
The second qualifying round runs from 31 March to 5 April.
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