The Netherlands failed to add the Women’s World Cup title to their European Championship won in 2017, but the Dutch gave a good account of themselves in France. Malta international RACHEL CUSCHIERI, who plies her trade at PSV Eindhoven, spoke to Gianluca Lia, giving an in-depth picture of the Dutch development…

Two finals in two years at senior level and an appearance in this year’s European 17 Championship final mirrors the solid development of the women’s game in the Netherlands.

Prior to 2017, the Oranje women’s national team was struggling in attracting numerous crowds to their international appointments. But that all changed two years ago when they were crowned as European champions on home soil.

That tournament turned out to be crucial in helping women’s football to grow and at the same time, it helped the Dutch players to secure more exposure both in terms of local following as well as media attention.

Nowadays, Dutch players are earning more respect in the women’s game, testament to that is when Lieke Martens, who is currently on the books of Barcelona, was named UEFA Player of the Year for season 2016-17.

Some of their best talents include Shanice van de Sanden who plays for Olympique Lyon, Women’s Champions League winners and Arsenal’s Vivienne Miedem who is already the all-time leading scorer of the national team, at age 22.

Prior to this year’s World Cup, the Dutch FA reached an agreement with the women’s team which will see the players receive an increased compensation for the next four years until it reaches an equal payout to the men’s team in 2023.

This month, the Netherlands managed to reach the World Cup final in only their second appearance, and Cuschieri highlights their mental strength as a key factor in their journey in France.

“To be honest, I thought that the Netherlands would enjoy a positive run in the tournament, but I never expected that they would reach the final,” Cuschieri told Times of Malta.

“Obviously, that is a great achievement for them and hopefully it can propel women’s football in Holland to the highest levels.

“Without doubt, their mentality has helped them reach this stage. The Dutch players always want to be the best at what they do and that certainly helps them achieve positive results.”

At club level,  the number of professional players is increasing triggering the interest of various Eredivisie sides in focusing also on the women's game. 

For example, Groningen is exploring the option of starting a women’s team while one of the most stable Dutch teams in the women's game, PSV Eindhoven, are setting the benchmark high as they are composed mainly of professional players. 

One of the players at PSV is Malta international Cuschieri, who has been playing abroad for the past five seasons between Cyprus, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The coming season will be Cuschieri’s second year at PSV, where she will be looking to reignite her career after a long-term injury brought to an early halt the 2018-19 campaign.

For the 27-year-old, playing in Holland is a fantastic experience because there is a huge interest in the game and this can only help her improve and feel welcomed in a professional environment.

“When I arrived in the Netherlands, one could immediately grasp the enormous hype there is about the women’s game here,” Cuschieri said.

Asked about the competitiveness level of the league, Cuschieri described it as a very strong one.

“The level of the league is very high and it makes for a very tight and battling competition,” she explained.

“Moreover, there is a good number of young players playing in it and this will help them fulfil their talents from such a young age in a tough league.”

Cuschieri also explained how the the number of young girls engaging with the Beautiful Game is increasing year after year.

“Interestingly, the number of young players is rising because the girls have more opportunities in the Netherlands, and they also the chance of playing with boys’ teams or else go to summer camps with the opportunity to polish their football skills.”

What can Malta copy?

Asked about what can Malta take from the Dutch game, Cuschieri pointed out that professionalism and better facilities are the first step towards an improvement.

“We have to start from basics, having better facilities as this will help the game to grow on our shores,” Cuschieri said.

“Moreover, having as much media coverage and promotion as possible is also crucial because that would help us engage more followers and why not, encourage more girls to play.

“Ultimately, as a national team, we need to play more games as well, maybe organise tournaments for small nations.”