Portugal women beaten 1-0 by the Netherlands in World Cup debut

The female Seleção made their World Cup bow today at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand, going down 1-0 against the Netherlands.

A nervy Portugal were very much second-best in the first half and were grateful to go into the break just one goal down from Stefanie van der Gragt’s towering header from a corner.

The Navegadoras improved significantly in the second 45 minutes, but despite enjoying more possession in the Dutch defensive half of the pitch, were unable to force an equaliser. 

The significance of the occasion for the Portuguese was obvious from the outset, with several players unable to contain their tears during the rendition of the national anthem.

Promising opening fizzles out

And Francisco Neto’s side looked fired up in the opening minutes as their energetic pressing initially put the Netherlands – beaten finalists at the last World Cup – on the back foot, restricting the team in orange to their own half.

However, a well-directed long ball over the top of the Portuguese defence set free Lineth Beerensteyn, with the same player then almost getting on the end of a headed knock-on. On both occasions Portugal goalkeeper Inês Pereira dealt competently with the danger.

But the momentum had shifted, with the Netherlands now pinning the Seleção back. Beerensteyn came close again in the 12th minute, her shot deflected over the bar by Diana Gomes.

Set-piece weakness again Portugal’s downfall

From the resulting corner the Dutch took the lead. Portugal women have historically had trouble defending set pieces and their fragility in this area was exposed again as the tall van der Gragt rose highest to head in direct from a corner. The goal was initially chalked off owing to a Dutch player on the line in an offside position, but after a VAR check the referee ruled that she did not interfere with play and the goal stood.

The goal further boosted the Netherlands’ confidence. Jill Roord somehow missed when it seemed easier to score as she was left criminally free from a corner but directed her header over the bar from point-black range.

Sherida Spitse and Daniëlle van der Donk tested Pereira, and Beerensteyn shot narrowly wide after hesitant Portugal defending just before the break.

More worrying than Portugal’s difficulty in stemming the Dutch attacks, though, was the complete lack of danger at the other end of the pitch. Jéssica Silva and Diana Silva were isolated up front with Portugal’s midfield overrun, and the Netherlands goalkeeper Domselaar was a mere spectator.

Second-half improvement

Whatever Neto told his players at the break had the desired effect as the Seleção came out with a more aggressive and more ambitious attitude in the second half.

Nevertheless, the Netherlands came close to doubling their lead on 52 minutes, Pereira doing well to save from a powerful van de Donk shot.

As the half wore on, Portugal began to exert pressure on the Dutch, aided by the substitutions with Kika Nazareth, Andreia Jacinto, Lúcia Alves and Telma Encarnação all giving the Seleção fresh energy and more dynamism as they tried to find a way through the well-marshalled Netherlands defence.

In the 82nd minute Portugal created their best chance of the match, Telma Encarnação skipping past her marker, cutting into the box, and smashing a cross-shot towards goal that Domselaar had to parry, with the panicked Dutch defence happy to hack the ball clear.

Encarnação was then a whisker away from getting on the end of a Jéssica Silva cross.

The Netherlands showed their experience by winding down the six minutes of stoppage time without letting Portugal anywhere near their goal.

Analysis: Brave effort but a reality check for Portugal

The sight of the Dutch players falling to their knees in exhaustion and jubilation at the final whistle showed that Portugal had given them a game and they were relieved to seal the victory against tough opposition.

When we consider that the Netherlands were runners-up at the last World Cup, were recently European champions, and are ranked 9th in the world, it would be unfair to be over-critical of a courageous effort by Portugal as they break new ground.

However, the narrow 3-2 defeat against the same opposition at Euro 2022 and Portugal’s continued evolution had raised expectations of a more even contest.

It is difficult to shake the idea that nerves got the better of the Seleção players who were unable to play their best football, especially from the offensive point of view. There also seemed to be an element of fear in Portugal’s initial approach, overly focusing on defensive solidity.

Despite an improved second-half display, the Netherlands were the far superior team overall as shown by the final shot count (12 by the Netherlands, 2 by Portugal) and the shots on target (5-1).

Given the huge strides made by the women’s game in Portugal, just being on this stage is a praiseworthy achievement, but Neto and his charges will be keen to bounce back against Vietnam in their second game on Thursday to show the world they can play.

By Tom Kundert

Netherlands: Daphne Van Domselaar, Stefanie Van der Gragt, Sherida Spitse, Dominique Janssen, Jill Roord, Danielle Van de Donk (Damaris Egurrola, 80’), Jackie Groenen, Victoria Pelova (Kerstin Casparij, 94’), Esmee Brugts, Lineth Beerensteyn (Katja Snoeijs, 87’), Lieke Martens

Portugal: Inês Pereira, Ana Borges, Fátima Pinto, Diana Gomes, Carole Costa, Catarina Amado (Lúcia Alves, 79’), Dolores Silva (Kika Nazareth, 67’), Tatiana Pinto, Andreia Norton (Andreia Jacinto, 78’), Diana Silva (Telma Encarnação, 79’), Jéssica Silva


[1-0] Stefanie van der Gragt, 13’