The Netherlands are among the favourites for the women’s European football championships, which gets under way in England on Wednesday.
The Orange Lionesses, who are defending champions, kick off their campaign on Saturday against one of their main rivals, Sweden.
Host nation England will kick off the tournament at Old Trafford in Manchester against Austria. The English team, coached by Dutchwoman Sarina Wiegman, are rated by data analysts Nielsen’s Gracenote as the most likely winners.
Wiegman led the Orange Lionesses to victory in the 2017 competition, which the Netherlands hosted. Spain, France and Germany are also seen as strong contenders this time around.
This year’s tournament was postponed from 2021 because of the coronavirus
pandemic. A record-breaking 500,000 tickets have already been sold, twice as many as the last Euros, as stadiums across England sell out.
Some 250 million people are expected to watch the tournament on television.
European football’s governing body Uefa has called this championship the ‘biggest women’s sporting event in European history.’
‘We can’t wait to get the ball rolling,’ said Uefa women’s football chief Nadine Kessler.
Although expectations are high for the defending champions, Spain, England and France have improved in the last four years. The Dutch team’s results have been mixed under their new coach, Englishman Mark Parsons, but many of its star players have been sidelined due to injury or Covid.
Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema, the Dutch team’s all-time top scorer, is one to watch, as is winger-midfielder Lieke Martens. Midfielder Damaris Egurrola, who switched to the Dutch team in March after representing Spain at youth level, is being touted as a rising star, along with Ajax midfielder, Victoria Pelova.
The popularity of women’s football has increased exponentially in recent years, raising its commercial profile. A decade ago live television coverage was unheard of, but now major stadiums are sold out and clubs are selling replica shirts for women players.
Just last month, the Netherlands joined countries such as the US, England and Spain in paying women’s international players at the same rate as men, a pay raise which came into effect on July 1, just in time for the European Championship.
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