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Women's World Cup 2019

Women’s World Cup: Dutch striker van de Sanden at home in Lyon final

Loïc Venance, AFP | Shanice van de Sanden after The Netherlands’ match against Japan in Rennes, France, on June 25, 2019.

After a lacklustre start at this World Cup, Dutch striker Shanice van de Sanden bounced back to help The Netherlands score a spot in Sunday’s final. The Olympique Lyonnais forward will now play for global glory against the US at home, in Lyon.

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“Très, très, très contente,” van de Sanden told local media in French after her Dutch squad dispatched Sweden in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final. “Very, very, very happy.”

And yet she was uncomfortably close to having a nightmare night. After seeing van de Sanden deliver disappointing performances throughout the tournament, Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman elected to leave the striker on the bench for the semi-final, preferring Lineth Beerensteyn, who had been a more prominent presence. But with nerves apparently getting the better of her, Beerensteyn was less effective against the Scandinavians, missing too many passes and crosses.

‘It’s my city; it’s crazy!’

In the 71st minute, van de Sanden finally entered the game with the two sides still deadlocked. The striker didn’t find the back of the net, despite a powerful shot off her right foot in injury time, but she did bring depth and speed to the Orange Lionesses’ game. Relief finally came in extra time when Jackie Groenen scored the winner that would send The Netherlands to the final.

“It’s really a dream. It’s incredible. It’s a team effort. And on top of that, it’s a World Cup and it’s my city; it’s crazy!” said van de Sanden, who has plied her trade with French legends Olympique Lyonnais for two seasons, after the match. “It gives you a lot of confidence when you have the stadium with you. When I arrived, everyone was screaming my name. It provides that little extra.”

It must be said that the Dutch forward is a Lyon fan favourite. Despite often inconsistent results, van de Sanden has made herself a player to count on in big matches. Indeed, she carved a place in the Olympique Lyonnais history books – no small feat at a club compared, in a New York Times profile, to the Harlem Globetrotters – with decisive performances in the last two Champions League finals, both won by Lyon. In 2018, van de Sanden delivered three assists against Wolfsburg. A year later, back in May, she did it again with two assists against FC Barcelona.

'The most contagious teammate’

Van de Sanden’s teammates call her a constant threat for opponents. “Shanice has an unmatched enthusiasm to work hard in any situation, against any player, in any game. She is the most contagious teammate, always demanding more from everyone, no matter who it is,” English defender and OL teammate Lucy Bronze told The Offside Rule.

And yet the Utrecht-born 26-year-old took up football relatively late. Van de Sanden was 12 when she discovered the sport. But within just four years, she succeeded in joining the national team. “It felt like jumping on a fast train,” as she described the journey on her sponsor Nike’s website. “First I was in the under-17s, then the under-19s and soon after I was training with the national team. That was really amazing; it’s hard to describe that feeling. I just remember how my family responded, how proud my brothers and mother were.”

Indeed, van de Sanden’s family saw her career take off before their eyes. In Utrecht, on July 16, 2017, the striker headed in the winner in the Euro 2017 opener against Norway. For three weeks, the whole country got behind the Dutch women, right up to the team’s victory against Denmark in the final for their first-ever title. After the tournament, Olympique Lyonnais came calling, drawing van de Sanden to Lyon after 18 months at Liverpool.

Considered one of the fastest footballers of her generation, van de Sanden is also known for her eccentricities. Her hair shaved down almost to her scalp, she sports an ever-changing palette of colours, from bright pink to leopard print, and she never takes the field without her lipstick. “I really like having my lipstick on. I play with it, train with it, and I feel comfortable with it. That’s why I do it. Everyone talks about it, and I like that people talk about it,” she told The Equalizer in an interview.

What look will she wear for the final on Sunday against the United States? That remains a surprise. Even as the underdog Dutch square off against the powerhouse American favourites, van de Sanden is once again poised to take the pitch relaxed and confident. “It will be a difficult final,” she told French TV channel TF1. “But in any case a final is a final, it’s always difficult, and I’m ready.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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