The Netherlands overcame a lacklustre Norwegian side 1-0 on the opening day of the Women’s Euro 2017 Championships in Utrecht.
Opening games are usually very dull and cagey affairs with neither side wanting to give the other an inch. As the women’s game improves in quality, so does the tactical awareness of their coaches and players. It was clear from the beginning what the Dutch had planned to do with their variant of a 4-3-3. They looked to press high up the pitch and look at attack whenever possible but do so in a controlled build up. Norway came into the game with their variation of a 4-3-3, almost as if it was more like a 4-3-1-2 with the right and left back looking to overlap and push on. However, that didn’t work as they used Elise Thorsnes as a make-shift left back with centre back Maria Thorisdottir playing as a defensive midfielder alongside the inexperienced 18 year old Frida Maanum. This allowed Shanice van de Sanden to run riot down the Dutch right with her pace and movement for the entire game. It took just 30 seconds before a beautiful through ball to van de Sanden down the right provided the opportunity for an early cross only for Lieke Martens to force Ingrid Hjelmseth into a magnificent reaction safe to keep the score at 0-0.
Balance proved to be key in this opening fixture for Group A as Jackie Groenen bossed the midfield from start to finish. Wherever the ball went, Groenen was there mopping up the danger in front of her back four or spreading the ball wide to start a quick counter-attack. Her movement, vision and overall decision making was first class having a rather narrow midfield three provided the kind of compactness that you need to shut down inexperienced and out of position central midfielders. Norway really missed a trick by using their captain Maren Mjelde at centre back as Norway struggled to keep possession of the ball the whole game and their chances were few and fair between because they were forced to play the ball long because of the high Dutch pressing and energetic play.
Despite their struggles Norway did manage to produce a few chances to score. Star player Ada Hegerberg created an opportunity for Caroline Hansen to score after some neat work down the right but Arsenal goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal was alert to the danger and made a very good smothering save close to Hansen’s feet. A Mjelde free kick just to the right of the goal towards the end of the first half was also well saved by van Veenendaal.
At the other end of the pitch Hjelmseth put in a very good display to keep the score down. That, coupled with some woeful finishing from Vivianne Miedema helped to keep the score as low as possible. It was quite surprising to see the first half finish 0-0. However, it wasn’t long before the Dutch broke the deadlock in the second half. Despite a lovely cross from van de Sanden in the 49th minute there wasn’t anyone else but Miedema in the box to get a touch on it and it flashed across the 6 yard area and away from danger. The Dutch continued to wreak havoc down both sides of the pitch as Martens and van de Sanden looked dangerous throughout. In the 66th minute Martens broke down the left and floated in a peach of a delivery for van de Sanden to head home into the bottom left corner of the Norwegian goal. If both Martens and van de Sanden can produce that kind of delivery more consistently then you could be looking at two of the best wide players in Europe in the future.
An impressive display from the Dutch from start to finish which, wasn’t what I was expecting. Their formation countered Norway’s very effectively by dominating the centre of the midfield while letting their wingers a poetic licence to thrill. The high energy and fitness that they displayed as well as ball control and ball retention are encouraging signs for the host nation. A possession percentage of 58 is something Louis van Gaal was sure to enjoy as he looked on from the stands. Dutch fans have reason to be optimistic.
Women of the Match: Jackie Groenen.
van Veenendaal, van Lunteren, van den Berg, van Es, Dekker, van de Sanden, Spitse, Miedema, van de Donk, Martens, Groenen.
Hjelmseth, Wold, Thorisdottir, Mjelde, Schjelderup, Thorsnes, Hansen, Holstad Berge, Hegerberg, Minde, Maanum