The Netherlands were one of our favorites of the longshots coming into this tournament, their first ever World Cup, for a number of reasons. Their underdog status, their paltry history, the sudden boom of young talent once the country began to prioritize the women’s game, their expressive style of play—it all combined to make the Dutch eminently lovable even before the games began.
The first two games of the group went mostly how we expected: lots of neat passing moves, winding dribbles, one superb goal, and some slipshod defending. Their three points from two matches were a fair summation of their play. Still, they entered the final group match against Canada needing at least one point for a shot to make it out of their group.
(Quick side note: The top two finishers of every group in this edition of the World Cup automatically qualify for the knockout rounds. The best four of the six third-place finishers also make it, as determined by points and goal difference.)
Canada also were in need of a good showing, both in terms of knockout round seeding as well as their own confidence. After two games and four points won, they never looked like strong favorites to make the deep run the nation dreamed of. In the Netherlands, the host country had a strong but defensively vulnerable opponent against whom they could prove their contender status.
The game itself went almost exactly as Canada would’ve hoped. The addition of a couple fresh, younger players—and especially the 17-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming, whose face perfectly matched her tender years while her bossing play definitely did not—resulted in a much livelier and coordinated attack. They scored after 10 minutes and controlled things for about the next hour, bar the occasional counter when all that Dutch talent in attack would weave its way around and through the Canadian defense before misplaying the final pass or skying the shot.
In desperation, the Netherlands started pressing Canada for every pass and sending all kinds of bodies forward in attack. It worked. In the last 15 minutes or so of regulation, the Dutch had a number of chances to get that all important goal and likely extend their time in Canada for at least another game.
It eventually came in the 87th minute in the video you see up at the top, thanks to the same recklessness in attack, technical ability (check out those one-touch passes those women played to each other while frantically sprinting at top speed), and jubilation that made us pull for them in the first place.
In that goal, you can see the individual and team quality that makes this tournament so fun. In their movement, you can see just how hard these players will fight for the chance to survive just a little longer in the biggest event in their sport. In the ecstatic celebration, you can see exactly what the goal and the moment means to all of those players. It’s the perfect encapsulation of why we watch.
With China and New Zealand drawing their match, Canada ended up winning the group, China finished second, and the Netherlands locked up a strong third with four points. Their position is already stronger than the third-place finisher in the other completed group, and with four more groups yet to wrap up, all they need is one other third place team to finish with fewer than four points. The Netherlands won’t be favorites against whomever they face in the Round of 16, but that doesn’t matter to them. As they showed last night, getting as far as they already have is plenty to be proud of.