Tilburg’s Köning Willem II Stadium was fizzing with excitement from well before kick off as the two Lowlands neighbours squared off in the final round of matches in Group A, for a place in the Quarter-Finals. The Netherlands had won both of their previous games 1-0, while debutant Belgium could go through with a win against the Dutch, following their joyous 2-0 victory against Norway, four days ago.
Belgium’s Red Flames were roared on by their support, who filled one entire end of the ground, but it was the home side that dominated chances in the first half. They went 1-0 up when Sherida Spitse buried her second penalty of the tournament (following a foul on the superb Jackie Groenen) but Belgium weren’t done yet. As the urgency to score ramped up, up popped Tessa Wullaert, with a great cross that nearly led to a goal and then a side-footed, looping up and under lob, which beat Sari van Veenendaal to level the scores.
It was end to end stuff now but the Oranje settled it when Groenen played in Player of the Match (the irrepressible left-sided midfielder) Lieke Martens, her shot cruelly deflecting past the wrong-footed Justien Odeurs into the Belgian goal. The tournament needs the home team to progress and any competition is richer for the joyous sea of orange that washes around them wherever they go – they’re playing very effectively too – though it will be poorer for losing Belgium and their brilliant support.
CHRIS BROOKES caught up with an understandably disappointed Janice Cayman, Belgium’s no.11…
SK: Can you sum up your emotions at the moment?
JC: I’m disappointed because we’re winners and we want to win, but unfortunately it stops here today for us. I think we can still be pleased with our tournament.
SK: The equaliser from Tessa (Wullaert) seemed to change the game in your favour at that point, and certainly the atmosphere for a little bit. Before that, how frustrating had it been trying to get that breakthrough? Why do you think it wasn’t coming together?
JC: I think we started well in the first 15 minutes; I think the Dutch didn’t really know what was happening. With the incident with Maud (Coutereels) and (Anouk) Dekker, we kind of got scared, I don’t know. We get the PK against us and I think we fell back a little bit from there, so it was more difficult to play football into feet. I think second half we restarted the game, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win.
SK: Over the three group games, what do you think the team did well, and not so well?
JC: We got better every game and our organisation is just really strong. I think we made it difficult for Norway and especially Holland today, so I think we need to build on that. We know we have good counter-attacks, maybe we can get a bit more regular in the game and play a bit more into feet.
SK: There were times when the noise from the away supporters made it feel like you were the home team. Is that atmosphere one of the best you’ve played in for the national team?
JC: Yeah, our fans are great. It started with the first game and then for the second (against Norway) there were so many, and they were so loud, and now today, too. I heard our fans more than the Dutch fans, so yeah, I think we can be really proud of them, too. It’s an honour to play for them.
SK: You’ve had experiences with teams overseas (Pali Blues, Western New York Flash and attended Florida State University in the U.S. as well as representing FCF Juvisy and now Montpellier in France), how has that changed you as a player?
JC: I think it helps us growing as a (national) team, too; I can help some younger players with the experience that I have from abroad. I think everybody has their little thing to add to the team and I think we make a really good team. We need to build on that and try to get better.
SK: Did you learn a lot from those times playing in America?
JC: Yeah, I learned a lot. The Americans are really like winners, so I really became like that, too. I’m not pleased with not winning; the opponents are there, too, so we can’t control everything. I think the winner’s mentality is a really strong point for the Americans and I really learned a lot about that.
SK: This was your first major tournament as a national team, do you think something’s properly started for the women’s game in Belgium?
JC: I hope so. I hope the people are really pleased with the game we brought and I hope it’s the start of something beautiful in Belgium. I hope the people keep on supporting us and we keep on playing good.