Jackie Groenen talks about letting her instinct take over on the pitch
Credit: Kunjan Malde Photography

Following their play-off semi final first leg win over Denmark, we spoke to midfield lynchpin Jackie Groenen about the Oranje Leeuwinnen playing their way.

Defeat in Oslo

Having stormed the 2017 European Championships, the Dutch squad visibly slumped after lifting their first silverware. Drawn into a World Cup qualification group with a Norway team that had made each of the last seven FIFA tournaments but that was going through one of the worst periods of their own footballing history.

After a game of cat and mouse throughout the group stages that had seen the Dutch dig out some strong performances at the Algarve Cup, all eyes were on Oslo for the deciding match. The third meeting of the two nations in 15 months going in the favour of the hosts.

The match had started well for the hosts, and the Football Girls were two goals to the good inside of seven minutes however, the Dutch fought back well. A strike from Vivianne Miedema just after the half hour saw the visitors turn the tide, with chance after chance going begging. Needing only a draw to qualify top of their group, the second goal refused to come for the Netherlands.

With another four potential matches to play to reach the World Cup (as the lone winner from the four-team play-offs), the Dutch responded to the defeat expertly in Breda.

Sure, we wanted to qualify straight away. We had two years where everything was kind of going our way so it was a big loss, it hurt us but [against Denmark] you could see that we responded very well.

Back to basics

A ruthless attacking team that have a superb understanding for manipulating and exploiting space, the Dutch seemed to go back to what they did best for the first leg. Despite an all too familiar starting XI – the only three changes from the 11 that started against Denmark in the Euro final forced by injury – the team found form at the right time.

The sub-par performances that littered the 14 months between the final and the first leg of the play-off banished as the players on the pitch put on a show for the 15,000 strong crowd at the Rat Verlegh.

Pressing the ball from the get-go, the hosts fell into regimented lines to deny their opposition any clear chances in attack before seamlessly transitioning into attack. Overrunning the Danes in the final third and closing out spaces in attack, it was a vintage performance and the tie easily could have been put to bed before the half time whistle.

We’ve just been thinking about how we want to position on the field and how we can put pressure on them, and still play our own game so it’s a mix of thinking of what they want to do but still doing what we want to do.”

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Strong history

Having won their last seven matches against Denmark coming into the tie – including a narrow group stage win at the Euros, the 4-2 final in Enschede and most recently a 3-2 in the Algarve – Groenen insists history means nothing.

With those wins in the past, and the task at hand very present, the midfielder consistently plays her game. A footballer with a clear affinity for Johan Cruyff – it’s no coincidence that Groenen wears #14 for both club and country – the Tilburg-native relies on a Cruyff-like instinct for the game. The opposition, any history, or even a preference for shooting with their left foot; none of it matters as much as being there in the moment in a game, feeling every moment and unconsciously reacting.

Honestly, for me every game is a new one and I never look at numbers (or players) I don’t look if they’re right footed or left footed, I go on the pitch and I try to feel it and everything comes on its own.”