LYON — They take their soccer seriously in the Netherlands and getting criticized by the national press tends to be a sign of success.
Four years ago in Canada, few in the Netherlands were overly concerned with the fate of the women’s national team having qualified for its first Women’s World Cup.
Now as reigning European champions and World Cup finalists, every player selection and tactic by head coach Sarina Wiegman is scrutinized.
Even heading into the semifinal Wednesday at the Stade de Lyon where the Netherlands defeated Sweden 1-0, Wiegman was being criticized by the Dutch press even though her team had won every game in the tournament, including a 2-1 victory against Canada in the final game of the opening round.
“That’s the situation we are in right now since we won the European championship, we’ve become very visible,” Wiegman said. “There is a lot of our media here and even when this tournament started there was a lot of media and more attention for our players. Yes, they are critical, that’s part of our lives right now, so we just deal with it and we just need to focus on our game and try to get better every game, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Much like hockey in Canada, the Netherlands is a country full of self-professed soccer experts. The latest player under scrutiny is forward Shanice van de Sanden, who is teammates with Canadian centreback Kadeisha Buchanan at Olympique Lyonnais.
Van de Sanden is considered one of the most prolific scorers in her country but has yet to find the net at this tournament. She was benched and came on as a substitute against Sweden, making an immediate impact on the game with her speed down the right wing.
“Shanice is a very important player for all of us and for a long period of time she scored goals. She assisted goals and now in this very tournament her performance is slightly lowered,” Wiegman said. “However, the opponents are stronger as well and it’s difficult for her. The media is criticizing her a little bit too personal, however, the entire squad is facing criticism.”
Getting to the final of a second major tournament has forced some of the Dutch press to change its tune. Yet there are still some out there who will never be satisfied with the team’s performance.
“At the beginning of the tournament the entire squad had been criticized but we were still able to win,” Wiegman said. “We addressed this with the players and the players discussed this among themselves as well. We still have to focus on football, we should not always focus on the criticism we can’t focus on the press. It is up to the players if they want to read criticism in the press. But we have to go through this stage and this is difficult for her, it’s been more difficult for Shanice van de Sanden than it has been in the past.”
CANADIAN IN THE MIDDLE
Canadian Marie-Soleil Beaudoin refereed the semifinal between Sweden and the Netherlands and had a strong game in the middle.
Beaudoin, 36, was the only Canadian referee at the tournament after Carol Anne Chenard had to skip the tournament after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Chantal Boudreau was in France as an assistant referee.
Beaudoin refereed four games at the World Cup, including a second-round game between the hosts France and Brazil, which also went into extra time.
Originally from Quebec City, Beaudoin now calls Halifax, N.S., home. She made history by being the first female referee to work a Canadian Premier League game, assigned to the HFX Wanderers home opener in April. She’ll likely work more CPL games once she returns to Canada from the World Cup.
“Just like an athlete — it’s a dream to get there for an athlete — it’s definitely a dream to get here as a referee as well,” Beaudoin said before the start of the tournament. “It’s a lot of pressure, but as referees, that’s what we enjoy. We enjoy the challenge and so that’s the biggest challenge that we can have in front of us.”
Having refereed the semifinal it is unlikely Beaudoin will be assigned the final on Sunday.
DUTCH HAVE COME A LONG WAY
The Netherlands made its major tournament debut 10 years ago at the European championships and had not seen a World Cup tournament until they qualified for Canada four years ago.
Now the Dutch are on the verge of completing an impressive double as European champions heading into the World Cup final Sunday against the United States. They have also qualified for its first Olympic tournament in Japan next summer.
The rise of women’s soccer in the Netherlands has been impressive.
“It started changing after we made our first World Cup four years ago,” said Netherlands defender Merel van Dongen. “There was a lot more money invested in Holland and also in Europe in the competitions. Right now it’s extremely different, if you’re 18 or 19 now, you don’t have to work seven hours somewhere and then go play.
“You get a contract and you train and you become a professional. It starts from the younger ages. Ajax, for example, they have a youth academy, a lot of the teams in Holland have youth academies, something that I’ve always wanted but I couldn’t do. Now we’re taking players from a young age like they do in the United States and this is the result.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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