Orange Lionesses on the prowl in World Cup jungle

The Netherlands have long been highly regarded for the achievements in world football, both for their success at the FIFA World Cup™ and their greater contribution to the beautiful game around the planet. Who could forget their swaggering Total Football of the 1970s; a playing revolution which still resonates today in the modern game.

One piece of the jigsaw, however, has been missing. It might come as a surprise to many but the Netherlands have never featured in a FIFA Women’s World Cup™. Finally that anomaly will be put right on Saturday when the Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) take the field on the biggest stage of them all. Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium will be a sea of red for the Opening Match featuring local favourites Canada, but undoubtedly there will be pockets of trademark orange on hand to witness a slice of Dutch football history as the Netherlands tackle New Zealand.

Good things come to those that wait Despite their Women’s World Cup inexperience, the Netherlands boast plenty of know-how among their ranks. Five have accrued in excess of 100 caps amid a host of players who well and truly know their way around international football. Chief among them is long-term poster-girl of the Oranje Leeuwinnen; Manon Melis. The Rotterdam native who, though only 28, is now in her twelfth year in an orange shirt, and is comfortably the nation’s best ever goalscorer with 54 goals to her credit.

Melis though admits there was a time when she thought playing in a World Cup was merely a fanciful dream. “At the beginning of my career I didn’t think I would ever be at a World Cup,” Melis tells “But when we qualified for the 2009 Euros we started to improve and have belief that we could reach our World Cup goal.” The Netherlands, however, needed to survive a gruelling four-match play-off series to become Europe’s final qualifier. “We were convinced we were going to make it,” Melis says, perhaps proving the level of belief in the Dutch ranks.

“A World Cup is something you dream of when you are a young girl,” says Melis who boasts fine footballing bloodlines with her father Harry a well-known striker with Feyenoord and Den Haag. “I am proud to be here and looking forward to showing the world that we have a great team and can play good football.”

Heroes and role-models Perhaps more so than most amid the 24-team Canada 2015 field, the Netherlands hope to provide impetus to women’s football in their homeland. Football participation for girls and women is on the move in the Netherlands which has enjoyed a remarkable 81 per cent increase in playing numbers over the past decade. And Melis describes the Dutch breakthrough to the world stage as “very important for the development of the sport”.

The fact that the Netherlands is the host of the next UEFA Women’s EURO in 2017 adds yet another layer for the Dutch on their Canada sojourn. “The attention has increased enormously and that’s good for women’s football in general. There’s more media attention and the amount of spectators at our home games is getting bigger and bigger.”

After their opening, the Dutch will have further Group A match-ups against China PR and Canada. And a major sub-plot for onlookers will be the attacking combination for the Dutch, in particular Melis’s combination with teenage starlet Vivianne Miedema. It is almost a case of history repeating itself with Miedema debuting as a 17-year-old and immediately scoring at a prolific rate – just as Melis did over a decade ago now.

The prodigious Miedema, with a European-high 13 goals in qualification – has been earmarked by most judges - Melis included - as one to watch at Canada 2015. “Viviane is a really big talent and a goal machine,” says Melis. “Of course I'm enjoying playing with her, but also Lieke Martens on the left side, and we all complement each other. We have good balance in the team now and that’s why the three of us can attack how we do.”