The Netherlands are renowned the world over for their exploits on the football field. Despite their modest size the Dutch have featured in three FIFA World Cup Finals™ and their achievements remain the envy of many much larger nations. However, the national women’s team have lagged behind in comparison, and are yet to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup™. It is a surprising statistic, doubly so given the Netherlands featured in the first recognised women’s international back in 1971.
However, the current generation have developed rapidly in recent years under coach Rogers Reijners, and they are intent on creating a milestone achievement. The Dutch finished narrowly behind Norway when the recent group stage concluded and, but for a costly home draw against Belgium, the *Oranje Leeuwinnen *could already have secured their ticket to Canada 2015.
Now they must leap two more imposing hurdles. They must firstly tackle the equally improved Scotland, before a further play-off against either Ukraine or Italy. Battle hardened after featuring in the past two UEFA Women’s EURO’s, and with the U-19 national team recently crowned European champions, the Dutch feel they have cause for optimism.
*Shot at history *
The current Netherlands side is a mixture of youth and experience with over half a dozen squad members boasting around 100 caps or more. One such veteran is goalkeeper Loes Geurts who is enjoying her tenth year in the *Oranje *shirt. And the 28-year says qualification is important for women’s football in the Netherlands.
“We have never been this close before,” Geurts told FIFA.com from Sweden where she plays for Kopparbergs/Goteborg. “We have never been so close so it is very exciting. I want to play in a World Cup so, so bad. Everyone in the team is the same. It is really important. Not only for us because we want it, but for Dutch women’s football. It would mean a lot if we could compete at a world level.”
Geurts, who boasts a degree as a physiotherapist, says there is much scope to grow women’s football in her homeland. “It is growing slowly, but it needs more attention,” Geurts said. “It is still men’s football that is everywhere, so I think it could help a lot if we get to the World Cup. Whereas the men’s team have achieved so much, and won big tournaments, we haven’t really achieved so much in women’s football historically. Countries like Germany and Sweden have won big (women’s) tournaments and that makes a difference.”
*New-found confidence *
The shotstopper is well placed to comment on the growth of the national team and she says the signs are promising. “I think so,” says Geurts, when asked if this is the best Netherlands team in her decade-long experience. “We are growing every year. We have had other good teams in the past too. We usually had really good defence, but we have developed and have worked on our attacking play in recent years and are taking steps.
“We had some bad results against Norway and Belgium (in the qualifiers) where we had off-days you could say. But overall we have really developed. There is a big difference between the first few games and the last few games of the qualifiers. We have been playing more maturely.”
Geurts, who grew up surrounded by farms in Wunseradiel in the nation’s rural north-west province of Friesland, learnt her trade the hard way in a family of four older brothers. “You can play with us but you have to be in goal they said,” Geurts says with a smile in her voice as she recalls her first steps into the art of goalkeeping. And so the youngster regularly stood in front of the village bus shelter used as a makeshift goal, and fielded shots from her older brothers.
In many ways it was valuable platform to build a career as an international goalkeeper, even if it was a tough schooling. An appearance in goal for the *Oranje Leeuwinnen *next year in Canada in front of a watching world would nicely complete a remarkable odyssey that began at the village bus stop.