SYDNEY (AFP): Andries Jonker said his Netherlands side do not fear Women’s World Cup holders the United States after warming up for a rematch of their 2019 final by beating Portugal 1-0 on Sunday.
Defender Stefanie van der Gragt scored the only goal as the Dutch began their campaign with victory under a closed roof in Dunedin against the World Cup debutants.
It was not an entirely convincing performance but it sets the Netherlands up for a mouthwatering Group E showdown on Thursday with the USA, who began their bid for a third straight title with a 3-0 win over Vietnam.
If beating Portugal means the Oranje Lionesses are already on course to qualify for the last 16, the clash with the United States could now determine who tops the group.
“Winning this game was the most important thing by far,” said the Dutch coach Jonker.
“We don’t underestimate Vietnam. We respect them. We are not afraid of the USA, but this was the most important game and Portugal proved they were a difficult opponent.”
The Dutch are no longer the force they were four years ago, when they reached the final in France before going down 2-0 to the Americans.
Influential coach Sarina Wiegman has since departed to take the England job and prolific striker Vivianne Miedema is missing the World Cup as she recovers from a knee injury.
However, Jonker named a line-up that featured seven players who started the 2019 final, plus new Manchester City recruit Jill Roord, who came off the bench in that match.
And it was one of their most experienced players who got the only goal in the 13th minute in front of a crowd of nearly 12,000.
Centre-back Van der Gragt, who has over 100 caps, got up to powerfully head a Sherida Spitse corner beyond Portugal goalkeeper Ines Pereira.
The assistant referee’s flag came up for an offside against Roord, who was standing just in front of the line, but a review confirmed that she was not obstructing Pereira and the goal was given.
“It is always difficult to celebrate a goal the second time but it was good. I am really happy that we won,” said Van der Gragt.
Portugal came through the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup and the emotion of their first ever match at the tournament was such that some of their players were in tears during the national anthem.
However, they struggled to create chances with substitute Telma Encarnacao producing their first shot on target in the 82nd minute.
The Netherlands saw Danielle van de Donk come close early in the second half and they were always in control, albeit without ever really sparkling.
They suffered a blow as forward Lineth Beerensteyn came off with a knock late on.
They will hope she recovers in time to face the USA, while Portugal will hope to get their first World Cup victory when they play Vietnam next.