The Netherlands may have beaten Sweden on their way to winning the last Women’s Euros and reaching the 2019 Women’s World Cup but the sense they will be relieved to survive this high-octane clash with the 2021 Olympic finalists only serves to underline how difficult it is to call the likely winners of this tournament.
A record crowd for a Women’s Euros group game not involving the hosts, of 21,342, witnessed two of the superpowers of the game slug it out in a match that would not be out of place should it be reprised in the final. “I hope so,” Vivianne Miedema, the Netherlands striker, said. “But … Sweden are one of the favourites, England are up there as well. I think we can give anyone a good game on our day. I like to see that we’re the dark horse and we can just enjoy our tournament.”
Louis van Gaal, coach of the Netherlands men’s team, witnessed his nation battle back from a groggy first half, in which Sweden deservedly led through Jonna Andersson’s goal, to perform more like their old selves in salvaging a draw thanks to Jill Roord’s equaliser.
The aggregate number of supporters at the opening six games of this tournament has already surpassed the total of 117,384 lured to the previous Euros England hosted in 2005 and, on the quality seen so far, they will soon surpass all records.
While the second half was much more of a level game, the Dutch were still grateful to Daphne van Domselaar, their substitute goalkeeper, for pulling off a fine diving save to parry Fridolina Rolfo’s powerful drive minutes from full time.
With Miedema, the Arsenal striker, finally breaking free after being stymied in the first period, the Netherlands showed plenty of the guile and creativity after the break but their first-half showing, allied to the recent 5-1 thrashing by England in the warm-up game at Elland Road, suggested not all is well within a camp of superstar names and characters.
The 2017 champions lost two players to injury in a blighted first half. Sari van Veenendaal came to punch clear but damaged her shoulder in striking both the ball and Stefanie van der Gragt. There was a delay of several minutes and, while the PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper played on for another nine minutes, she had to be replaced by Van Domselaar.
Sweden sensed the Dutch were not fully at it and enjoyed much success down the flanks through their wing-back system in the first half. Kosovare Asllani helped create the goal with a great bit of skill.
The Real Madrid forward nutmegged Aniek Nouwen, the Chelsea central defender having been pulled wide by Sweden’s superb passing, down the right wing and pulled the ball back for Andersson to control at the back post before sidefooting home.
The goal was no more than Sweden deserved and also served to open up the game, to the neutral’s delight. Daniëlle van de Donk half-volleyed over at one end, as the Dutch tried to play their way through, either side of Lina Hurtig going close with two brave headers. In the first of these, Nouwen injured her ankle and had to be replaced.
If it was the Dutch who were hurting at this stage, they came out pumped up for the second half and were level within seven minutes. Miedema started pulling wide behind Sweden’s wing-backs and worked her magic down the right wing with a superb dummy. She then followed her own pass to collect a rebound and when her intended pass out wide was deflected, Jill Roord swivelled to shoot first time beyond Hedvig Lindahl.
Asked whether this was an opportunity lost or a good point gained, the Sweden manager, Peter Gerhardsson, said: “Somewhere between. The feeling’s always disappointed when you don’t win the game.”
Mark Parsons, the Netherlands coach, said: “There’s more to come in bringing our attacking qualities because it was fun to see when Viv and others got the ball, Sweden just wanted to drop, and they were afraid. We’ve got to be braver to get those moments of course, but when you lose your captain, and when you lose a centre back – the mindset and the emotions, it’s going to be all over the place.”