Dutch women headed to World Cup after injury time winner over Iceland
The Dutch women’s national football team miraculously forced their way into next year's World Cup. Even after more than 90 minutes, the Oranje squad had failed to score in their final qualification group match against Iceland, until defender Stefanie van der Gragt grazed a cross from substitute Esmee Brugts more than two minutes into injury time and saw the ball sail into the goal: 1-0. Thus it was the Netherlands, not Iceland, that automatically qualified for the tournament as the group winner.
The team, led by new national trainer Andries Jonker, escaped a cumbersome route to the World Cup, which carried the possibility of participating in two play-offs. Thanks to Van der Gragt's goal in injury time, Jonker now has nearly a year to prepare his team for the tournament, which will be held on the other side of the world in Australia and New Zealand. Jonker recently succeeded Mark Parsons, who was fired after the disappointing European Championship.
Oranje missed a large number of opportunities in the Galgenwaard stadium. Before half time, the ball struck the crossbar three different times, and the Lionesses hit the post once in the second half. Iceland showed a disciplined, full-force defence. In a total of eight World Cup qualifiers, they conceded three goals in total, two when they hosted Oranje in Reykjavik (0-2), and Tuesday night’s late strike from the Dutch women. They earned shutout victories in their other six matches to finish in second place in Group C with 18 points after twice defeating Belarus, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic.
As Iceland won the other six games and the 'Lionesses' drew twice against the Czech Republic, the Icelandic football players entered the final group stage match as\ the points leader. Keeper Daphne van Domselaar, the new number 1 under the bar after Sari van Veenendaal departed, hardly saw any action. For large parts of the match, she stood far outside her penalty area, watching her teammates try to find holes in the Icelandic defense on the other side of the pitch. Oranje had plenty of opportunities, but the crossbar, the goalkeeper and the occasional sloppy finish ensured that it remained tense for a long time, and even threatened putting the Dutch into the play-offs.
After 65 minutes, Jonker brought in two fresh attackers, Esmee Brugts and Fenna Kalma. Brugts assisted in putting Oranje ahead in extra time with her cross that led to the only goal of the match 27 minutes later, which gave the Lionesses a ticket to Australia and New Zealand.
It will be the third time the Dutch women’s team participates in the World Cup. They reached the Round of 16 in 2015 in Canada, but lost 2-1 to Japan. In France four years later, the Dutch reached the final as the reigning European champion. The team was then guided by coach Sarina Wiegman. They lost against the American team, who extended their reign as world title holders with a 0-2 victory.
The Netherlands also wants to organize the 2027 Women’s World Cup together with Belgium and Germany. The three countries expressed their interest in 2020 in a proposal to the global football federation FIFA and the European association UEFA. The Dutch association, KNVB, initially planned to apply on its own, but decided to bring in the Belgian and German associations when the field of participants for the World Cup expanded from 24 to 32 countries.
FIFA is expected to decide next year where the 2027 World Cup will be held. Should the joint Dutch bid win, the final would be held in the Netherlands.
Reporting by ANP