When the final day of the first round of fixtures at the Women’s World Cup 2019 commences, we will see New Zealand vs Netherlands in a group E match at Stade Oceane.
While the Football Ferns come into this tournament as the underdogs, the Orange Lionesses arrive as reigning European champions, with some high-quality players at their disposal.
This is New Zealand’s fourth consecutive World Cup appearance after a 16-year hiatus between 1991 and 2007. They haven’t gone past the group stages each time, which really underlines their credentials as the ultimate underdogs.
Twelve months back, this football team was in turmoil following the government’s decision to grant equal rights to male and female athletes.
Head coach Andreas Heraf was sacked after making his team play a defensive brand of football, which wasn’t appreciated by their supporters. Senior players opted out of playing for him and things turned into a mess.
However, a new dawn beckoned when Tom Sermani was hired. He brought stability to the team and played a decent brand of football. They strolled through the Oceania group in the qualifying stage to book their tickets for France.
On the other hand, this is the Netherlands’ second appearance in the World Cup, after making their debut four years back in Canada.
The Orange Lionesses have a plethora of very good players, especially going forward, and deserve the tag of one of the dark horses of this tournament. They had to take the playoff route, in which they defeated Denmark 4-1 on aggregate, to book their tickets for France.
New Zealand’s style of play and key player
Even though Sermani isn’t one of the most attack-minded coaches, he tries to work with limited resources and play a stable brand of football. The 64-year-old focuses on making the team strong defensively and then remaining effective on the counter.
New Zealand may not have high-quality attackers or creative midfielders (with all due respect), but they sure have some very good defenders.
Their star/key player is Abby Erceg, a centre-back by trade, a veteran of over 130 international caps and a former captain of the team. She is expected to lead the defence and help the Football Ferns to remain tight and tough to break down.
Netherlands’ style of play and key player
The Netherlands possess some high-quality attackers in their squad. In Shanice van de Sanden, they have the fastest woman in international football. Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema is one of the best strikers around. She scored 22 goals in 20 league games in a title-winning season for the Gunners.
While the attack looks potent, it is backed by a competent midfield, consisting of the likes of skipper Sherida Spitse, Jackie Groenen and technically-gifted Danielle van de Donk.
Amongst all that, their key player is Lieke Martens, a left winger by trade, who won the best player in the world award back in 2017. Her goal and assist contributions from wide areas will be vital for the Orange Lionesses.
In terms of defending, Sarina Wiegman’s side have to depend on Stefanie van der Gragt to be fit for most games in this tournament. Her experience and know-how of the game will be important.
On paper, the Netherlands seem clear favourites to get their World Cup campaign off to a winning start against New Zealand. However, nothing can be said with a guarantee in football!