The Netherlands came into UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ last summer the lowest ranked of the 12 qualifiers, but went all the way to an extra-time semi-final exit against England. The squad was rewarded with two-year professional contracts from the Dutch government. Since then the Netherlands have had mixed results in 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying, losing 3-0 in Norway and drawing 1-1 with Belarus either side of a record 13-1 victory over FYR Macedonia. Coach Vera Pauw has masterminded the team's rise since taking over in late 2004, including setting up the semi-professional Eredivisie Vrouwen in conjunction with the top male clubs in 2007/08, and she reflected on their feats.
uefa.com: Have you had time to consider the year's achievements?
Vera Pauw: Not much! I had five days' holiday with my husband [after the finals] and as the qualifiers came straight after the players did not have a chance to get their feet on the ground. [The EUROs] had such an impact in Holland. There were two million viewers for the semi-finals, the quarter-final got 850,000, a record for any sport on Dutch Eurosport. The impact was huge and everyone around us was pulling us back to the European Championship but the Norway game was there and then FYR Macedonia and Belarus. Against Norway we played our best game ever but then conceded twice in the 44th minute and it killed us. We couldn't find the energy any more. You have to have luck, we saw that in the European Championship; we had so much luck. Germany, they celebrate and then get on with the next job. But it was our first time.
uefa.com: What difference do the contracts make?
Pauw: They only have to work a few hours a week. We encourage them to keep their jobs or still study, we don't think it's good to do nothing but football, so they get challenged. But we can organise the programme the way we want. We can get them in when we want and we can educate the players in promotional activities, get them into coaching and they can give clinics in Holland because the little girls want to see their heroes. There are 18 players in that project which means in a year we'll have 18 girls experienced in promotional activities and that's the first step to develop further in the future.
uefa.com: When are the contracts reviewed?
Pauw: In February the goals are set for the next year. So we have this status for one year then it is reviewed. But with Norway in our group, World Cup qualification cannot be the deciding factor. We hope our Olympic committee goes for a target further than the World Cup; the 2013 European Championship.
uefa.com: What does your success show to other emerging nations?
Pauw: Anything is possible, that is my philosophy. Everyone called me crazy when I came up with the vision [to set up the women's league], but some people got behind me and said we need to go for it, and see if we manage. In the back of our heads, the semi-final has always been there. We have given our all to get behind the team, as has the country as a whole: You must believe in the goals you set. If I'd said we would win the tournament, it wouldn't have been realistic as I knew the semi-finals would probably be a step too far – though with ten minutes of extra time left, it could have been different. England deserved to get through but it's been a project we will never forget.
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