KEIR RADNEDGE in ENSCHEDE*: Netherlands have been rewarded twice over and deservedly, with their presence in Sunday’s final of UEFA Women’s EURO 2017, for outstanding performances as hosts on and off the pitch.
The Orange Lionesses saw off the colourless Lionesses of England 3-0 in their semi-final in the same Twente Enschede stadium which will stage the showdown against first-time finalists Denmark.
England could point to some weak refeeering under the occasion’s stress by France’s Stephanie Frappart, an uncharacteristic miss by Jodie Taylor, the defiance of a Dutch goalpost and a fatal mistake by Fara Williams.
Netherlands, however, played by far the better balanced, more cohesive football. Shanice Van de Sanden and Lieke Martens stretched the opposition wide on the right and left wings while nimble Jackie Groenen and tireless Danielle van de Donk complemented each other neatly in midfield.
The country has thrown itself happily and noisily behind its home favourites ever since they launched the party with a 1-0 win over Norway nearly three weeks ago in front of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima who will surely be back to witness their team’s likely crowning.
Netherlands have played five games on their route to the final, conceded only one goal while scoring nine and underlined their steady progress with their clearest margin of victory yet over England.
Mark Sampson’s team demonstrated the combative spirit necessary for the occasion but lacked the creativity to provide Taylor, the tournament’s five-goal top scorer, with the essential service. This had barely mattered or shown up against less skilled opponents but the Dutch were cut from a different cloth.
They stifled England’s attacking efforts, when pressed back in the closing stages, just as England had stifled the life out of their own earlier opponents.
A record crowd for a women’s match in the Netherlands of 27,092 delighted in goals from centre-forward Vivianne Miedema (22 minutes), Van de Donk (62) plus a last-kick own goal from England’s Millie Bright.
Miedema opened the scoring with a header to a cross from playmaker Groenen and England were denied an equaliser when Jade Moore saw her deflected header skim off a post. They also had a strong penalty claim for a push in the back denied.
The fatal blow was struck just after the hour when Williams misjudged the weight of a defensive header and Van de Donk timed her run perfectly to beat keeper Siobhan Chamberlain.
Keeper Sari Van Veenendaal saved well from Taylor at close range and Ellen White while Sherida Spitse cleared off the line before Dutch alacrity was rewarded in stoppage time as Martens’s shot was deflected into the net by Bright.
Aptly, a banner in the crowd read: “Keep your Neymar – we have Lieke.”
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. and is currently undertaking a Young Reporters course in the Netherlands in co-operation with UEFA, More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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