Netherlands Win In Entertaining Thriller Thanks To van de Donk’s Wonder Strike
The Netherlands, reigning champions of the competition, survived a scare from a plucky Portugal side to go top of their group.
Going into the match, both teams set out to claim their first win of the tournament. The Dutch Eleven led by Mark Parsons were held to a draw against strong willed Sweden, a strong opponent who rank 2nd in the FIFA Women’s Team Ranking. Portugal meanwhile fought back to clinch a point against Switzerland after being 2-0 down at halftime, with the final score being 2-2.
The Netherlands started on the front foot, with Damaris Egurrola heading home the opening goal within 7 minutes. In the first 20 minutes, the Dutch repeatedly forced Portugal to concede corners, something that Francisco Neto’s squad looked increasingly vulnerable from. This pressure paid off again in the 16th minute when talented midfielder Spitse delivered another enticing delivery into the box, reaching commanding defender van der Gragt. Her initial header was cleared off the line, but a hopeful shot from Lieke Martens deflected the ball back to van der Gragt, who headed in her second attempt and gave the Dutch a 2-goal cushion.
Although Portugal's defensive performance left much to be desired, they posed a constant attacking threat throughout, and their resolve to attack was strengthened when they went 2-0 down. Their perseverance paid off with ten minutes to go in the first half, as the lively Diana Silva cut inside Dominique Janssen and the defender clipped Silva, causing her to go down. After a VAR check, a penalty was awarded. Carole Costa expertly slotted home, and gave Portugal hope just before halftime.
As soon as the second half kicked off, Portugal raced forward and continued the pressure they had generated in the first half. A beautiful cross from Costa was met with an unstoppable header from Diana Silva in the 47th minute, putting the determined Portuguese side level and sending the fans into elation. The Netherlands looked vulnerable at the back and were heavily under pressure, but it was at this point that they showcased their title-holder mentality.
Jill Roord thought she had slotted the third goal home 4 minutes after Portugal's equaliser, but after a lengthy VAR check it was disallowed due to an offside in the build-up play. Determined still, the Netherlands kept the pressure up. In the 62nd minute, from just outside the box, van de Donk sent a thunderbolt strike into the top right corner, sending her team to the top of their table. From this point onwards, the Netherlands ran the clock down to take the sting out of Portugal's attack and ultimately secured three points.
Despite securing the win, this was not the best performance from the Dutch champions, and the players knew it, with the celebrations being slightly subdued at full time. Their lack of rhythm is understandable. Vivianne Miedema, their heroic striker who scored twice in the 2017 final, was absent due to a positive COVID-19 test, along with midfielder Jackie Groenen. They also felt the absence of their first choice goalkeeper and captain, Sari van Veenendaal, due to a shoulder injury that she sustained against Sweden.
Nevertheless, the 3 points is what will matter to the Netherlands who now sit top of the table in Group C, above Sweden on goals scored. “We are a good team, but we are trying to be a great team,” commented manager Mark Parsons. It was not acceptable the way we started the second half but we showed great quality to regain the lead.” Francisco Neto, meanwhile, was full of praise for Portugal's valiant display. “I am proud of this team. At 2-2 we thought we could beat the champions of Europe. This means that the women’s game in Portugal is growing.”