Dutch have no room for error against dominant U.S. team in Women's World Cup final
The Netherlands have made great strides, but it likely won't be enough against powerhouse Americans
It was four years ago in Vancouver.
We were not in good shape. We were still dealing with the emotional hangover of Canada's failure to advance beyond the quarter-finals of the women's World Cup.
Even with nationwide support at every full stadium, and millions more cheering from the sofa, the hosts had, once again, left us with an empty feeling of what if?
To make matters worse, the Americans were in town. Pilgrims in their tens of thousands had clogged up the border crossing to occupy a great Canadian city. They were ready to shout, scream, chant and party in support of Team USA.
They needn't have bothered. The gold-medal match was even more anticlimactic than Canada's loss to England a week earlier.
As a contest it was over in 16 short minutes. Carli Lloyd's hat trick blitzed the shell-shocked Japanese. The defending champions simply wilted under the onslaught. By the time they got their act together it was all much too late to mount any sort of fight back.
I have a nasty feeling we may be treated to something similar in Lyon.
Continuing where they left off
We have waited a month to find out which nation would dare defy the Americans at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. No takers so far. Team USA has been on cruise control throughout, and has yet to receive a substantial threat to its throne.
The Americans have, seemingly, continued where they left off in Canada. They have scored early in every match in France. The longest it has taken them to seize the initiative was just 12 minutes in their opening game against Thailand. Yep, that game, and those celebrations.
The only team that can beat the mighty Stars & Stripes are the Americans themselves. Complacency is the only weapon that can defeat them. If, just for a moment, they switch off or lose focus we might have a game on our hands.
The Netherlands has made rapid strides in women's soccer. The Dutch have never been a contender at the women's World Cup. Yet in a few short years they have emerged to challenge the traditional European giants. Germany, Sweden and Norway and England would all swap places right now.
Two year ago the Netherlands discovered the secret to tournament success. Hosting the 2017 European Championship was the necessary springboard. The Dutch, with a new coach at the helm, swept all before them, winning every game and the trophy to the delight and surprise of many.
Dutch coach knows American psyche
Sarina Wiegman knows more than most about the American psyche. As a former player and captain of the Dutch national team, she spent a year with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Her teammates included U.S. soccer legends Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly. Together they became NCAA Champions in 1989.
It is that winning mentality and self belief Wiegman will attempt to instill in her players. If the Dutch, and their army of orange clad fans, don't absolutely believe they can beat the Americans, there can be only one outcome.
The first 20 minutes will be pivotal. Team USA will come out with all guns blazing to try and impose their authority on the game. To have any chance, the Netherlands must hold strong and be focused on winning individual battles. On every corner and free kick, each Dutch player must know and carry out their assignment.
The Americans will be fresher for the final. They have had an extra 24 hours to rest and prepare while the Dutch had to endure a two-hour battle before finally outlasting the Swedes in extra time.
One can only hope it's a fair fight. The Americans don't care if we think they're arrogant. They're not on a sightseeing tour of France. They are professional athletes, paid to execute a plan.
If successful, they will cement their place as the greatest women's international team of all time. They may also be invited to the White House. We'll wait and see.