Thousands of orange-clad fans flooded the central Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday to celebrate the Netherlands’ first women’s Euro title, a much-needed win to boost the football-mad country’s flagging fortunes.
The first “Lioness” supporters -- many of them young women and girls -- scurried past as the gates opened to secure a prime spot in a local park where their heroins appeared later on Monday evening.
The team arrived in an orange-coloured boat which toured the city’s canals amid the cheering of thousands of onlookers who crowded the banks along the way, some even jumping into the canal to get closer to the team.
“It’s amazing, they are my heroes,” Elena, 8, dressed in a Dutch football shirt and orange blow-up crown told AFP.
Arriving too late at the park in central Utrecht where 12,500 fans were already crammed in to see the team, Elena had to be content watching the celebration on a big-screen television.
Inside, the players were called one-by-one onto the podium, while the crowd chanted “we are the champions!”.
“It’s imply incredible, unbelievable. I have no words to describe this. It’s just not normal,” Dutch and Arsenal women’s goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal told the NOS national newscaster on the boat.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,” added a beaming national coach Sarina Wiegman. The Dutch women’s team beat Denmark 4-2 on Sunday to become only the fourth team to lift the trophy after eight-time champions Germany, two-time winners Norway and Sweden, who won the first edition in 1984.
The Dutch win is a welcome boost for women’s football in the country where 1.2 million people out of a total population of 17 million are members of the Royal Dutch Football Federation (KNVB). (AFP)
More than 146,000 members are women, the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad reported. Sunday’s victory also comes on the backdrop of a lacklustre performance by the once-mighty Dutch men’s team, which lost two major 2018 World Cup qualifiers against France and Bulgaria and drew against Sweden.
Their hopes of going to Russia next year look slim.
The ‘Oranje’ have so far managed to beat only minnows Luxembourg and Belarus.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Dutch remain hopeful of snatching a seat in Russia with upcoming qualifiers against France in Paris on August 31, and Bulgaria on September 3.
But all eyes were on the women’s players on Monday, with a headline in the Algemeen Dagblad reading: “We simply did what the men could not!”