Lieke Martens celebrates after scoring for the Netherlands against Belgium earlier this month (Gerrit van Keulen)
The Netherlands reached the final of the last Women’s World Cup but a repeat looks a tall order for a side who have seen an inspirational coach depart and lost their star striker to a serious knee injury.
The Dutch only appeared at their first World Cup in 2015 and followed that by winning the European Championship as hosts two years later under Sarina Wiegman.
Then came that remarkable run to the World Cup final in France in 2019, when they defeated Canada, Japan and Sweden before a 2-0 loss to the United States.
Their hopes of building on that were dealt a blow when Wiegman left to take the England job after the Dutch went out of the Tokyo Olympics on penalties to the United States in the quarter-finals.
Her successor Mark Parsons was sacked after a last-eight exit to France at last year’s Euro, which was won by Wiegman’s England. Andries Jonker was then brought in before they wrapped up World Cup qualifying.
They sealed their place at the finals starting next week in Australia and New Zealand with relative ease, only to lose the prolific Vivianne Miedema to a ruptured ACL.
The 26-year-old netted three times at the 2019 World Cup and is the all-time top scorer for the Dutch team.
On July 27 the Netherlands will meet holders the United States once more, this time in a Group E which also contains Vietnam and Portugal.
It would be a massive shock if the Dutch and Americans fail to reach the knockout rounds.
– ‘Make that dream a reality’ –
Despite the chasm left by Miedema’s absence the Dutch believe they can go all the way in Australia and New Zealand.
“Yes, you do dream about that,” winger Lieke Martens, of Paris Saint-Germain, told FIFA.com.
“And I think it is very good that you keep trying to make that dream a reality.”
Martens, now 30, was the standout player when the Netherlands won Euro 2017 and was named UEFA player of the year off the back of that.
She also won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2021.
“If we were to win, it would be complete. I would have won everything that I ever dreamt of winning,” she added.
“It will be a tough challenge, but nothing is impossible.”
The majority of the Dutch squad play for leading European clubs, including midfielder Danielle van de Donk at French champions Lyon and defender Dominique Janssen at Wolfsburg in Germany.
Jill Roord is another to watch. The 26-year-old ex-Arsenal midfielder has just left Wolfsburg to join Manchester City for a reported club-record fee.
Roord was a substitute in the 2019 final, coming on for Martens, but is set to have a starting role this time.
Coach Jonker might not have the aura of Wiegman, but he has an impressive CV, having worked as the assistant to Louis van Gaal at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, been head of the Arsenal academy, and coached Wolfsburg in the men’s Bundesliga.
“Suddenly, after the Euro win, people expect a lot from us,” added Martens.
“People expect us to always be able to battle for the grand prizes, and we have given ourselves that standard.
“The character in the team is back and maybe we can achieve something beautiful again at this World Cup.”