From player complaints to Mark Parsons’ management to sheer bad luck, here’s why the Netherlands’ Euro defense collapsed in the quarter-finals
A tale of unhappy campers hoping for a happy ending to summer. If Corinne Diacre knew that her hopes of still calling the shots at the 2023 World Cup in France rested on leading her malcontents to a first-ever European Championship semi-final, then Mark Parsons had only to look back to hear the first rumble of Dutch dissent listen .
France 1-0 Netherlands AET (Deceased ‘102P)
Jill Roord’s well-documented criticism of the Netherlands boss had been a calculated risk. She knew that expressing the players’ collective confusion over his lengthy team talks and their concerns about the decline in their possession football since Sarina Wiegman’s departure would likely provoke a reaction. Here she was, beginning the crucial test of her country’s title defense on the bench.
Aside from Roord, those who have hinted the 2017 champions are not in healthy shape have been confirmed at Rotherham.
Vivianne Miedema’s return should have been rousing; Instead, the Arsenal striker lacked sharpness after missing two games through Covid. The lower Miedema dropped in search of the ball, the more it should have been an indication she was playing in a familiar role, as she does under Jonas Eidevall. Instead, it was a sign that she’d isolated herself, and all the more alarm bells were ringing at this odd mix of world-class talent and sub-par cohesion.
There are mitigating factors Parsons can certainly look back on, from a difficult pre-season – best highlighted by the grueling defeat by England – to positive tests from Miedema and Jackie Groenen in the group stage. The injuries were even worse. Lieke Martens, Player of the Tournament five years ago and the face of Wiegman’s Champions, has been sidelined this time along with goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal.
The difference for France is that, even without Marie-Antoinette Katoto, this young attack’s pace provides just the fluidity that the Netherlands have been lacking. There was no fire start from a side who were ahead in all group games within the first nine minutes – but Kadidiatou Diani drove in at the Dutchman with such ferocity and the ball fell softly to Sandie Toletti, only for her to cheer her chance wide.
Whatever you say about the Netherlands’ lack of organization in the group stage, they don’t lack instinct. Melvine Malard turned awkwardly but finding herself 10 yards away it would have been easier to score than miss as Stefanie van der Gragt miraculously appeared on the line to clear. It was all the more miraculous when she did it again, Grace Geyoro begging for a handball in vain as Van der Gragt got her body on the line.
It’s no secret that France boss Diacre isn’t universally popular with her squad. In the absence of morale, her and Parsons’ approach is essentially the same: pick your best players from the XI, put them in roughly the right spots, and let them do the rest. At least France is playing to its own strengths.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, were hoping for more width from Lineth Beerensteyn, who has not been able to use her wingers optimally so far. It’s not just because of Martens’ injury. For all Danielle van de Donk’s technical ability, this is a system that doesn’t allow the midfield to be in control.
Before being dropped, Roord flitted between right and center, less impressive in role No. 10. Victoria Pelova showed again why she is attracting interest from Europe’s top clubs but for her runs to bear fruit, she needed options she didn’t often have.
The Netherlands can do so much more. As they grew into the game they had Daphne van Domselaar for their short stop that ensured they still had hope of meeting Germany in the last four. The best was yet to come, in the closing seconds when Wendie Renard blocked a one-handed header.
Miedema had seen one of the best chances to break the deadlock but couldn’t hold her shot and touched it over the bar on the first try. Delphine Cascarino had been guilty of worse; All she had to do was hit Selma Bacha’s cross and headed to the far post, but opted for the direct option and saw her attempt go wide.
France can’t afford to be so wasteful against Germany but when the breakthrough finally came from the penalty spot there was no real dispute, Dominique Janssen was denied the ball as she brought Diani down from behind. Eve Perisset had enough power with her penalty even when Van Domselaar went in the right direction.
Many of these problems are not new to the Netherlands. There’s an argument that they were in chaos when Wiegman arrived and that nearly a year after they left, they’re still bearing the brunt of their departure.
This is inevitable. That Van Domselaar and Van der Gragt were the reason they stayed in this duel for so long wasn’t – and it was only a matter of time before this defense would falter.