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Esmee Brugts and Romée Leuchter on how young players are giving the Netherlands a lift

Esmee Brugts and Romée Leuchter have seized opportunities to impress after injuries, illness and under-par team performances threatened to derail the Netherlands' UEFA Women's EURO title defence.

Netherlands' striker Esmee Brugts: 'Everything has happened so quickly'
Netherlands' striker Esmee Brugts: 'Everything has happened so quickly' DeFodi Images via Getty Images

With just over an hour gone in their final UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Group C match against Switzerland on 17 July, things were not looking particularly hopeful for the Netherlands. With the score 1-1, Switzerland were in the ascendancy, had hit the post, and only several excellent saves from Daphne van Domselaar had kept the Dutch in the match.

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Over the next ten minutes, coach Mark Parsons boldly took off three experienced and lauded players – Jill Roord, Lieke Martens and Lineth Beerensteyn – and replaced them by a trio of relative youngsters: Victoria Pelova (23), Romée Leuchter (21) and Esmee Brugts (18). Their impact was extraordinary. Pelova scored and set up one of Leuchter's two goals, while Brugts tormented the Swiss defence down the left flank and had a shot tipped on to the upright. The holders won 4-1, and marched on to the quarter-finals.

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"I just enjoyed it all," Brugts tells UEFA.com. "I played with a big smile on my face. There were so many fans, especially Dutch ones. When [me, Pelova and Leuchter] came on, the system changed and we were able to focus more on attacking. I think the subs brought more energy to the team."

For the second time during this tournament, the young PSV striker replaced Martens, who she has often cited as a role model. "I don't really think too much about that," says Brugts. "It's just the way it happened. I still look up to Lieke. I like to watch and listen to her. She really is the type who wants to help other people. Even though she left the camp, I’m still in touch with her."

Romée Leuchter celebrates one of her goals against Switzerland
Romée Leuchter celebrates one of her goals against SwitzerlandGetty Images

Brugts carried a flag at the Sparta Stadium in Rotterdam during UEFA Women's EURO 2017 in the Netherlands, and remembers watching matches (and celebrating her 14th birthday) during that tournament. Today, she is on the verge of playing in a quarter-final against France. "It’s crazy! Everything has happened so quickly. I’m just enjoying it; the realisation will come later."

Leuchter is living a similar dream having started these finals on the sidelines. "When you're not selected, you get a bit frustrated sitting on the bench," she told UEFA.com. "I was therefore really happy to grab my chance, and delighted that my two goals helped the team. My parents were at the stadium, and I saw them standing with tears in their eyes. Fantastic!"

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Leuchter, who played with Brugts at PSV Eindhoven before moving to Ajax, continues to learn a lot from Netherlands team-mates Martens and Vivianne Miedema. "I watch how they do certain things, and hope to learn from them."

Long-term, she may be being lined up to replace those stars in the first team, but if she is uncomfortable with the thought of challenging for their places (“it’s not something that's on my mind") the next generation of Dutch talent is certainly making its presence felt in England.

"We have quite a few young girls in the squad, and I think that's good for the dynamics of the squad," says Leuchter. "We just want to make a difference, to show what we can do and help the team."

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