·26 September 2023
·26 September 2023
A full-throated appreciation of an opposition manager before kick‑off is rare, and even rarer before a competitive match, the result of which – a late 2-1 defeat of England by the Netherlands – could prove incredibly important to Olympic qualification and Euro 2025 seeding.
Sarina Wiegman’s homecoming was not pretty, for her or England, with a lack of VAR helping to punish England’s profligacy, gifting the Dutch an offside opener. However, this was a result that had been coming, England have been winning ugly and in Utrecht their luck ran out.
The roar after Wiegman’s name was read out and her image displayed on the two big screens above the goals in the sold‑out Stadion Galgenwaard before kick-off reflected the esteem the Dutch have towards their former manager and midfielder.
The England manager, alongside her assistant Arjan Veurink, who lost their third game in 41 matches in charge of England, transformed women’s football in the Netherlands, earning the team’s first major trophy on home soil in 2017 firmly against the odds to ignite a revolution in the game. It would not be extreme to say that the more than 23,000 fans packed into this stadium – a sea of orange, waving flags throughout and vocal – would not be here without Wiegman.
So there were hugs for the returning hero before the game as well as after it – the captain, Sherida Spitse, warmly embracing her former manager, having said in advance she “means a lot” to the people of the Netherlands. Wiegman is world class and recently collected her second Uefa coach of the year award, to add to her three Fifa Best Women’s Coach awards.
That said, she is perhaps going through her roughest spell in charge of England. Rough is maybe too strong a word, and there are caveats. Wiegman is without long‑term absentees Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby, Beth Mead and more recently Keira Walsh and Beth England. There has also been a tight turnaround between the World Cup final and the start of a first Nations League campaign. And, there was the controversy for the opening goal here, with no VAR and Daniëlle van de Donk clearly offside in the buildup.
For now, though, it increasingly looks as though teams have started to figure out this England side and the Netherlands were no exception. Wiegman made two changes to the team that laboured, somewhat, to a 2-1 win against Scotland with Ella Toone replacing Lauren James and the rested Alessia Russo returning in place of Chloe Kelly. For the Dutch, there was one change to the side that endured a surprise 2-1 defeat against Belgium, with the Aston Villa goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar returned to the starting XI.
The Dutch dominated the first half against the European champions, desperately needing a first win to keep hopes of Olympic qualification alive, and England could not handle their press. Only two European teams will qualify in addition to the hosts France for the Paris Olympics next summer and only one team can win the group to earn a place in the finals of the tournament and bid for one of those top two spots.
The Dutch opener came in the 34th minute and England brought it on themselves. With the home side pressing high the captain, Millie Bright, threaded the ball to Georgia Stanway but the former Manchester United midfielder Jackie Groenen was alert and leapt in from behind to nick the ball. It landed at the feet of Van de Donk, who touched the ball back for Lieke Martens to curl into the top corner. Without VAR, England’s appeals for offside were to no avail.
The goal opened up the game and the Dutch continued to dominate but England had chances. Rachel Daly saw an effort come back off the post and Lucy Bronze forced a save from Van Domselaar. Lineth Beerensteyn hit the woodwork in either half as the Netherlands looked to extend their lead, first shrugging off Jess Carter and smacking the ball off the underside of the bar and later hitting the outside of a post.
Kelly, on for Daly at the break as England switched to a back four, was the architect of a fine chance moments later, delivering for Lauren Hemp but somehow Van Domselaar made the save. The gaps were opening up and in the 64th minute England levelled. Kelly fed Stanway, who sent the ball goalwards. It took a heavy deflection into the path of Russo who sent it looping into the top corner.
Both teams grafted for the winner but it was the late substitutions by the Dutch that proved the difference. Alex Greenwood’s underhit pass was latched on to by Martens, who set up Renate Jansen to smash in five minutes after coming on. It is not panic stations yet, but England need things to click fast.
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