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Dutch football success was decades in the making (Netherlands)

As a child growing up in Amsterdam, Vera Pauw would run up and down the sidelines of a footballpitch following the ball, pretending to be playing on the same team as her two brothers whose games she would always watch. With no girls team around to join, she had to indulge in make-believe. Until her late teenage years, she would join them for a kickabout on the streets and take part in impromptu matches with their friends.

It was an upbringing which gave former Netherlandscoach Pauw, who in 2009 guided her country to its first major tournament, the vision to create the blueprint which serves as the foundation for the current success of the Dutch women’s national team, the reigning champions of Europe and, possibly by Sunday, the world.

The speed with which the Netherlands has caught up with the established powers of the women’s game has been impressive. Competing in a World Cup for only the second time, the Orange Lionesses have reached their first final and will attempt to topple the United States, the defending champion, the world’s top-ranked team and the dominant force in the game.

But the Netherlands’ rise should not be regarded as a story of sudden success because it has been decades in the making, the trigger being Pauw, who successfully fought for the country’s most talented girls and boys to be allowed to play with and against each other until the age of 19.

“Step-by-step we developed a structure in which girls and women could find their own place so it’s not true that this success is coming out of the clouds,” Pauw, named Knight of the Royal Dutch Football Association in 2017, tells CNN Sport.

Backed by research from the University of Utrecht, which she herself helped kick start, Pauw eventually persuaded the powers that be in 1996 to create mixed youth leagues.

“I felt that equality between girls and boys, equality of chances and opportunity to develop, is a human right and I felt that because I’m a triplet with two brothers,” says the 56-year-old, the first Dutch female footballer to play abroad and the first woman to earn a professional coaching diploma.



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