While the Netherlands’ men are experiencing a crisis, having failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the country’s women have been single handedly bringing a smile back to Dutch football.
Victorious at the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017, thanks in no small part to the inspirational Lieke Martens – who was voted the year’s Best FIFA Women’s Player a few weeks later – the Netherlands are now one of the leading forces in the global women’s game.
The future looks bright for the Oranje too. The large pool of talent the nation has at its disposal is proof of that, as are the performances of 19-year-old striker Victoria Pelova, one of Dutch football’s brightest hopes. In starring at the 2017 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship, the prolific Pelova played a large part in their historic qualification for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018. An excellent side, the Dutch will hope to make a big impact in Brittany this coming summer.
As well as impressing with their fitness levels at last year’s European finals, the Dutch U-20 played with pace and attacking intent throughout the competition. With Pelova leading the line, they scored no fewer than two goals in each of their games, the last of which was a 3-2 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Spain.
“We play a fast attacking game,” said Pelova, a scorer against France in the group phase and La Roja in the semis – in conversation with FIFA.com. “We like to put pressure on opposing defences. It’s a style I’m very comfortable with.”
France 2018 will be the Netherlands’ first ever U-20 Women’s World Cup appearance, with Jessica Torny’s players making their little piece of history only a few days after the country’s seniors won the European crown, a triumph that would prove inspirational to Pelova and Co.
“I was a bit envious, I have to say,” she acknowledged. “It obviously motivated me. I was lucky enough to go to two of the matches. The atmosphere was amazing and I said to myself that I wanted the same thing.”
The ADO Den Haag player did not have to wait long. Not only did the Delft-born Pelova and her team-mates qualify for France 2018, she was also called up to the senior side for the first time in January this year. “I wasn’t expecting it but it was a wonderful surprise. I learned so much in those few days training with the squad,” explained Pelova, whose popularity is already on the increase. “After my first call-up for the seniors more than a thousand people have asked to follow me on Instagram. It’s crazy.”
While she and her team-mates have been showing their footballing maturity, Pelova is also an old head on young shoulders off the pitch, having chosen to continue her university studies as a gifted applied mathematician: “It’s not easy to juggle everything but I’m enjoying student life and I definitely want to carry on with it.”
With France 2018 falling right in the middle of her summer holidays, Pelova is hoping to be there: “It’s a golden opportunity. It’s a chance to show what we can do and compete with the best players in the world in our age group. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
The Netherlands have been drawn in Group A with Ghana, New Zealand and tournament hosts France. Pelova is hoping to return to the country for next year’s senior world finals: “It’s my dream, pure and simple: playing with the best and against the best.”