Star players, shrewd coaches and trophy triumphs – women’s football continues to break exciting new ground in the Netherlands.
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Dutch women’s football joined the professional era in 2007 when the Vrouwen Eredivisie was set up, with the likes of AZ Alkmaar and Twente entering teams. AZ dominated the early seasons before Twente took over, including between 2012 and 2015 when the cross-border BeNe League also involved Belgian clubs. Ajax and PSV joined the fray at that stage and the pair have generally traded the top spots with Twente in recent years. They also boast many of the biggest names, and this season’s Eredivisie featured Netherlands stars such as Twente’s Daphne van Domselaar, Ajax’s Sherida Spitse and PSV’s Esmee Brugts.
Vera Pauw has been blazing a trail since her playing days, when she represented the Netherlands for 15 years and became the first Dutch female professional upon joining Italy’s Modena in 1988. But her place in the pantheon owes arguably more to her coaching career. After kicking off at the Scotland helm, she took command of the Dutch national team and led them to their first major tournament, Women’s EURO 2009, where they finished surprise semi-finalists. Pauw went on to coach South Africa at the 2016 Olympics and, since 2019, has been in charge of the Republic of Ireland, now set for their own tournament debut at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
A Dutch international from the age of 17, Sarina Wiegman was the first player to represent the Netherlands 100 times, including unofficial matches. A fine achievement, but she has hit even greater heights since stepping into the dugout. A qualified PE teacher, Wiegman won silverware with Ter Leede and ADO Den Haag before becoming assistant coach of the Netherlands in 2014 and later taking the reins ahead of Women’s EURO 2017 – where she oversaw the hosts’ sensational triumph. She proved it was no fluke by reaching the 2019 Women’s World Cup final and created more history by steering England to victory on home soil at Women’s EURO 2022, a landmark win that earned her a third award as FIFA women’s coach of the year.
Sherida Spitse was still playing for boys’ team VV Sneek when she made her Netherlands debut aged 16 in 2006, a 4-0 World Cup qualifying defeat away to England. The midfielder, who turned 33 on 29 May, now boasts more than 200 caps and is all set to skipper the Netherlands at the 2023 Women’s World Cup – her seventh major tournament in orange. Spitse lifted the Women’s EURO trophy along with squad captain Mandy van den Berg in 2017 and continues to exert authority as a midfield anchor, while also closing in on 50 goals for her country thanks to her set-piece prowess.
When Vivianne Miedema struck 18 goals in a three-game Women’s Under-17 EURO qualifying mini-tournament in 2012, it was clear the Netherlands had unearthed a prolific talent. The year before, aged 15, she had made her Eredivisie debut for Heerenveen, registering ten times that season. And the goals have kept on flowing: nearly 100 for the Netherlands, including two in the Women’s EURO 2017 final defeat of Denmark, and a record-smashing ten at the 2020 Olympics. At club level, Miedema has upwards of 250 more, including well over 100 for Arsenal, whom she joined in 2017. Her current injury has robbed club and country of an all-time great, but aged 26 there is plenty more to come.
The Netherlands’ rise to the top was underpinned by the emergence of talents such as Miedema, Jill Roord and Dominique Janssen – and the conveyer belt has kept on rolling. Of the current crop, Twente’s Fenna Kalma has something of Miedema’ eye for goal, with already more than 100 strikes in the Eredivisie at age 23. PSV’s Esmee Brugts, just 19, is a thrilling playmaker, while chess-playing Maths graduate Victoria Pelova has shone up front for Arsenal since her January switch from Ajax. And it’s not just in attack – one of the surprise stars of Women’s EURO 2022 was Twente keeper Daphne van Domselaar, who replaced the injured Sari van Veenendaal in the Netherlands’ opening game and is now an automatic choice.
World Cup wonders
When the Netherlands prevailed at Women’s EURO 2017, many asked whether it would be a one-off, aided by a tide of home support. The doubts lingered when they required a play-off to reach the 2019 World Cup, but once in France the Lionesses flourished, topping a group including Canada and then beating Japan, Italy and Sweden en route to the final. Although USA eventually ground them down in Lyon, the Netherlands had proved they belonged in the global elite – an unthinkable prospect just a few years earlier.
First opened as a sports field for nearby factory employees, the central Eindhoven venue began to be transformed into an arena for spectators after PSV were founded three years later. The club’s home ground ever since, PSV Stadium has been staging UEFA competition games since the first season of the European Cup in 1955/56, by which time the capacity was rising above 20,000.
Now a modern, two-tiered all-seater capable of holding 35,000, PSV Stadium has a firm place in football history. It was here that PSV lifted the UEFA Cup after the two-legged 1978 final, and here too where they ultimately missed out on the 1988 UEFA Super Cup. Having staged three games at EURO 2000, the venue then welcomed the UEFA Cup final back in 2006, with Sevilla clinching the first of their record six titles.
Even before this Champions League final, the stadium has prior experience of big occasions in the female game. In April 2018, 30,238 fans watched the Netherlands beat Northern Ireland on their way to the Women’s World Cup – a record for any UEFA-organised female qualifier – and 30,640 attended a friendly against Australia the following year. PSV Vrouwen have also attracted 10,000-plus crowds to the ground.