The last chance at the Olympic Games for the Dutch team – how important is that tournament for the team?

1 What is at stake for the Dutch national team?

Officially, the match between the Netherlands and Germany is one for third place in the Nations League, a practice tournament. But no one is waiting for “a match for Piet Snot”, striker Vivianne Miedema said this week. And that is not the case, against Germany on Wednesday evening in Heerenveen. What is really at stake: qualification for the Olympic Games to be held in Paris this summer. The Netherlands could have qualified last Friday, but lost without a chance to Spain (3-0) in the semi-finals of the Nations League. Because France beat Germany in the other semi-final, the Netherlands gets a second chance. The starting position is simple: if the Netherlands wins, Andries Jonker’s team will go to the Olympic Games. In any case, a decision will be made: in the event of a draw, extra time will follow and possibly penalties.

In addition to qualifying, the match against Germany is also a serious indicator of the state of this Dutch team. The team was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Spain (2-1 after extra time) during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last summer. The European Championship was won in 2017 and the World Cup final was reached in 2019, but after that there were no impressive results at major tournaments. According to Andries Jonker, the current team is again among the world top – a victory over Germany would confirm that reading.

2 How important are the Games for Andries Jonker’s team?

Very important, and that was initially a surprise for the national coach. Jonker thought the playing calendar was already too full for his players and after last summer’s World Cup he thought: we can skip those Games. But that was beyond the players’ control. They really wanted to go to the Olympic Games.

About six months ago, Jonker said last week, he sat by the fire with six players in the Oranje players’ hotel. He had asked the three youngest and three oldest players. Do you want to go to the Olympic Games? Can we handle it physically? How important is this to us? Because if they not before the Games, Jonker could give internationals more rest during the Nations League. But it was, according to Jonker and several internationals, a short conversation. They all wanted to go for the Olympics. The national coach then decided to switch things up himself: if we go for it, he said, we will also go for the highest: a gold medal.

Traditionally, the Olympic Games are more important in women’s football than in men’s. The age limit for men is 23 years, making it a kind of youth tournament. In men’s football, other club and country tournaments have now become so big (in terms of prize money, attention and image) that the Games stand out somewhat in comparison. This is different in women’s football. A women’s football tournament has been organized at the Olympic Games since 1996 (the men have been participating since 1900) – and there is no age restriction. International women’s football has been developing rapidly in recent years, with prestigious club and country tournaments. But the Olympic Games were always one of the most important tournaments – which attracted the most attention – and are therefore still very important for the sport.

Also read
the latest edition of the NRC section De Equalizer about women in top sport

3 How strong is Germany in women’s international football?

Germany has a good record in final tournaments. The country is two-time world champion (2003 and 2007), eight-time European champion (all tournaments between 1989 and 2013 with the exception of 1993) and won gold once at the Olympic Games (in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro). At the last World Cup, last summer in Australia and New Zealand, the team did not survive the group stage for the first time in history.

The German Football Association DFB announced in November that the collaboration with national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, appointed in 2018 (who had reported sick after the World Cup), was terminated. The team needed “a new beginning in the field of sporting leadership.”

The performances under Voss-Tecklenburg were mixed. At the 2019 World Cup in France, Germany did not progress beyond the quarter-finals, meaning they missed the 2021 Olympic Games in Japan. At the 2022 European Championship in England, Germany narrowly lost the final to the host country. After the disappointing performance in Australia, the team dropped from second to sixth place in the FIFA rankings, one place above the Netherlands.

The team is now led by Horst Hrubesch, who was interim coach for some time. After the 2-1 defeat against France in Lyon last week, he said about his players: “On the one hand I believe in them. They have enough qualities, but they have to do everything they can. Ninety percent is not enough.”

4 Many players in the Dutch national team are injured or not fit. How is that possible?

Vivianne Miedema and Victoria Pelova are not available for the match against Germany. The Dutch striker and midfielder returned to their club Arsenal injured on Tuesday. Miedema, who made her return to England in October after more than ten months of absence due to a knee injury, only played one half in the semi-final against Spain last week. Pelova was not drafted that game.

Miedema and Pelova are not the only Dutch internationals who are not fit. Jackie Groenen, Lineth Beerensteyn and Shanice van de Sanden also had to skip training during this international match. And in the run-up to this international match, Jill Roord dropped out with a serious knee injury. “It squeaks and creaks,” said national coach Jonker, and according to him this is largely due to the intensive calendar.

Some players have not had time off in the summer for years (partly due to tournaments postponed during the corona pandemic). Jonker announced that his players will soon come up with a statement against overload. Nigel de Jong, director of top football at the KNVB, held discussions last week about overload with UEFA and FIFA officials and representatives of other European football associations. It is possible that European teams will come up with a joint statement.