In a very relaxed way, the Dutch Juniors are looking forward to the semi-finals of the World Cup under 21 in South Africa. On Sunday, the clash with India awaits, which, like the Netherlands, won all its matches in this tournament.
During the last training session before that game, the relaxation of this trickled down to the Dutch Juniors. For example, there was an opportunity to dance along when the YMCA was played in the stadium. Had a great time with a soccer ball. And top scorer and ball magician Jip Dicke tried – with success – to shoot a backhand between her own legs. Long story short: Chill mode was on with the title favorite.
Freedom, therefore, on field two of the university complex in Potchefstroom. ‘We didn’t want to make it so intensive today’, says national coach Dave Smolenaars on the edge of the training field. “It was tough against South Africa yesterday. And tomorrow it will be even tougher in the semi-finals. We wanted to pay attention to the defensive corner anyway. Then we decided to let everyone go to the field for a while to hit a ball.’
To the naked eye, there was no question of tension. ‘He went away after yesterday. Not that there was serious fear of losing to South Africa. But there was a very different feeling than in the group stage, when we got much less resistance than expected. I expected more from Canada – the Pan-American champion – and America, both of whom were missing some girls. That was a shame for us and the tournament. You hope that you are challenged to the maximum. Now it was clear after a day that this would not happen in the group.’
In between that analysis, Smolenaars laughs when physiotherapist Harm Bruin rams a ball far over the goal. His ‘shot’ goes to the parking lot where the South African TV cars are parked. “If only they had raised the fence a bit,” grins the national coach, who designated Teuntje de Wit and Sophie Schelfhout as reserves after the group stage.
So against South Africa, the Dutch Juniors were tested a bit more and some points for improvement emerged. “When we looked back at the game this morning, we really wanted to prove ourselves as individuals. That was our pitfall a number of times. We were going to play difficult balls, when it should be simple. We have again expressed that it is about the team and the result. That gives peace of mind and now makes it relaxed again.’
Argentina’s Exit and Dangerous India
On Friday evening, the Dutch Juniors and the entire team saw how Germany beat title holder Argentina 4-1 out of the tournament. Looking towards the final battle, that’s a shame somehow, says Smolenaars. “Had we met Argentina in the final, we would have met another team from another continent. It would have been nice for the girls to experience that too. But, a strong Germany can also be great.’
To add to that very quickly. ‘But of course we’re not there yet, are we?’
The bridge with India, the opponent in the semi-final, has already been made. The team of Erik Wonink , who beat Germany in the group stage (2-1) and had no child in the quarterfinals of South Korea (3-0). For what it’s worth: shortly before the tournament, the Dutch Juniors drew against India in an exhibition game: 1-1.
‘They are dangerous with their speed and have a lot of skills’, says Smolenaars. ‘With their good passing and high ball they have a complete team, which plays with a lot of passion and opportunism. In addition, they have many different penalty corners in the house. All in all a good team. They are right to be in the semi-finals.’