Martens: Netherlands can go far if we play our best football
Netherlands set to make their Olympic Women’s Football Tournament debut
Star player Lieke Martens has high hopes for Tokyo 2020
After a fine season with Barcelona, the midfielder is raring to go
Winning Olympic gold is not usually a top priority among the game’s leading female and male footballers, for a number of reasons: the opportunity only comes round once every four years; only a relatively small number of teams take part in the tournament; and competitions such as the FIFA World Cup™ and the UEFA EUROs have a higher profile in the game.
Yet when an Olympic year arrives and the chance to achieve glory with their country arises, that all changes. Just ask Netherlands star Lieke Martens. “When I was young, I didn’t think about playing in the Olympic Games, but over the years I started to see qualifying as a possibility,” she told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “And now it’s a massive dream come true to be able to play in the Games.”
Named The Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2017, Martens has enjoyed a superb season with Barcelona and is hoping to set a golden seal on it in Tokyo. “After everything we’ve done and the great year we’ve had with Barcelona, it would be amazing to finish the season off by winning an Olympic medal with Netherlands.” Having arrived from Swedish club Rosengard, the Dutch midfielder has now spent four years with Los Azulgrana. Though injury and difficulties settling in prevented her from producing her best football early in her Barcelona career, she is now one of the club’s leading lights and helped inspire them to a stunning UEFA Women’s Champions League, Primera Division and Copa de la Reina treble this season.
“I really believed we could achieve something special this season,” she told FIFA.com. “We’re a great team and we needed it.”
Hungry for more, Lieke now has Olympic glory in her sights with a Netherlands team mindful of its lofty status in the women’s game and with genuine designs on a place on the podium. The reigning European champions and the runners-up at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, Sarina Wiegman’s side will be attracting a lot of attention in Tokyo. “When you play for your national team at the Games, you want to do your best and go for the maximum prize,” said Martens. “We want to do something big in Tokyo. We’ve got a great team and we have our strengths. We know there are a lot of other good teams in the tournament, though, so we have to be at our best and show it.” The 28-year-old added: “I don’t think you can say we’re the favourites. I know that people expect a lot of us after winning the Women’s EUROs and finishing runners-up at the 2019 World Cup. I think we can achieve something big again, as we’ve done in these last couple of years, but it’s a bit of a stretch to say we’re the favourites, not when you’ve got the USA there.”
Turning her attention to what her team needs to do in Tokyo, Martens said: “We have to focus on ourselves and do what we know. That’s the most important thing. If we can play our best football, we know we can go far at the Olympic Games.” Though their recent achievements have established the Dutch as European and global powerhouses, the fact remains that Netherlands will be making their Olympic Women’s Football Tournament debut in Tokyo. As Martens explained, it is a debut that is causing some excitement in the team: “It’s really special to be the first Dutch side to qualify. We are the first generation and I hope more will follow in the future. It’s always special to pull on the national team jersey, but to do it for the first time at the Games is something else.”
As she acknowledged, however, danger lurks in a group that features Brazil, Zambia and China: “African teams are always tough because you never quite know what to expect. They’re quick and strong and it won’t be easy.
"We’ve played China many times, but I think they’ve had quite a few changes, so we’ll have to wait and see how they shape. And the same goes for Brazil. They’ve got great players in every position and they’re very skilful. They’re three very tough opponents.” Whatever happens in Tokyo, Martens knows it will be memorable: “It’s going to be a truly special tournament and I’m going to enjoy every single moment and every game. I hope we can come away with some special memories.”