The Netherlands are preparing for their very first FIFA Women’s World Cup this year, and with anticipation reverberating around the team, midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk has an extra way for the players to mark the occasion in style.
A 23-year-old attack-minded performer, Daniëlle made her major international tournament debut as the Dutch participated in the European Championship in Sweden two years ago. It was only the national team’s second appearance at a major competition, and after reaching the semi-final of Euro 2009, elimination at the group phase was not what coach Roger Reijners or his players had in mind.
However, with the obstacles faced across the board in women’s football it could certainly be said that ‘a work in progress’ is an apt description for all involved in the game. A first ever appearance at the World Cup is undoubtedly something to cherish and take pride in for the Netherlands and that feat was achieved via the UEFA qualification play-offs in November.
PSV/FC Eindhoven’s Daniëlle played the entirety of the team’s four play-off games, barring the closing moments of the semi-final second leg with Scotland after she was replaced by Eshly Bakker. The Oranje ticket to Canada was secured as FC Bayern Munich starlet Vivianne Miedema scored each of the Dutch goals in a 3-2 aggregate win over Italy in the final.
The feeling is good as they look forward to joining the other 23 nations at the tournament in four months’ time. As I explore in each interview on here, music unifies players and teams in all kinds of ways, and for Daniëlle, it would be hard to imagine not having it to turn to as she moves forward in her career.
“The combination of music and football is very important for me,” she began. “Before the matches, I listen to certain music which inspires me at that moment, and in that way, music is an important part of my life.”
“The songs I listen to often change after some time. I don’t have favourite artists but I listen to a lot of different music: always some pop – top 40 – but also Kygo and reggaeton music.
“I mostly listen to pop music, r&b, hip-hop.”
During Euro 2013, Daniëlle played just behind the highly accomplished Manon Melis, but despite holding eventual winners Germany to a goalless draw, the Netherlands were beaten 1-0 by Norway and Iceland. Two players who were also named in that squad are defender Mandy van den Berg and midfielder Sherida Spitse, who are current teammates at LSK, the 2014 champions of Norway’s Toppserien.
Although van den Berg had to withdraw from the squad through injury, she has returned to be an integral player, captaining the side as they qualified for the World Cup. Along with fellow 24-year-old Spitse, she was picked out by Daniëlle as she described the differing track choices in the national team.
“Music is very important in the preparation of the Dutch team; it motivates and gives the perfect vibe before the match. Some players have a different music taste than I have; Mandy van den Berg likes Dutch songs and Sherida Spitse is more of the hard-style music.
“These are not my personal favourites, but for one song, I don’t mind.”
Last June, Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC forward Lieke Martens was interviewed on here, and besides naming Daniëlle as the best midfielder she has played with up to now, she shared a story from the previous summer. With the national team together for the Euros, they would speak after each game with a Dutch radio station and it was agreed that whichever player was talking would sing the national anthem at the end of the conversation.
However, the team decided to pass the phone each time to Dyanne Bito and she would dazzle with her singing ability. The experienced defender gets the seal of approval from Daniëlle as she reveals the most talented vocalists in the squad and she begins by answering the question of whether she personally has ever had to sing for her teammates before.
“No I never did, except for ‘happy birthdays’! Mandy van den Berg is always singing, which is fun, and Dyanne Bito also sings sometimes.
“They are both good singers and it is contagious for the whole team; eventually, everybody is singing with them. The best song they introduced was ‘we’re going to Canada, la, la, la!’ after the important win against Italy.”
A former Willem II youngster, Daniëlle represented VVV-Venlo in 2011/12 before her move to PSV. At club level, it is a fellow midfielder in the team who puts together the playlist before a game, although Daniëlle has some input on occasions.
“I’ve never been the DJ but sometimes I recommend some songs. At PSV, Marlou Peeters is the changing room DJ and she has a lot of music to play.
“At the Dutch national squad, Claudia van den Heiligenberg, Dyanne Bito and Sherida Spitse are taking care of the music and they also play very different music styles.”
Left-sider Claudia van den Heiligenberg was actually a scorer when Daniëlle first appeared for the national team, back in December 2010 as the Netherlands beat Mexico 3-1. That encounter was part of the International Tournament of São Paulo, a competition in which they finished 3rd, with Marta leading the way with six goals for runners-up Brazil and Christine Sinclair of winners Canada just behind her with four.
Daniëlle has become more and more important in the way that the Netherlands play and her performances for club and country in the last year have not gone unnoticed. She has been nominated in the final three for the Female Athlete of the Year at the 2015 Sports Gala in Valkenswaard, in the south of Holland, where she comes from.
The national team is preparing for a friendly with Thailand (also set to debut at the World Cup) in Almelo on February 7th, although Daniëlle misses out this time through injury. When asked which of her career teammates she would choose to record a cover of a song with, she went for the standout singers in the Dutch ranks, but opted for an original track from the players rather than a cover.
“Again, Dyanne Bito and Mandy van den Berg would take the lead – that is the most pleasant for the listeners! The rest of the team is of course invited to follow, but we will make a great song of it, with a self-written song.”
A frequent scorer for PSV, Daniëlle was a runner-up with the club in the KNVB Women’s Cup last year as they were beaten 2-1 by Ajax. Competing for national honours and wearing the international jersey for the ‘Leeuwinnen (Lionesses)’ are privileges she once dreamed of.
In terms of music, her relationship with it has strengthened as she has grown older, but a couple of songs have had sentimental value for her for some time.
“When I was young, I wasn’t really busy with music. I bought my first CDs at the age of 16 – Hitzone (a Dutch compilation series) and some reggaeton.
“Sometimes songs make me remember certain moments or people. At home, I’ve listened to a lot of ‘Mama’ by the Spice Girls and ‘Hey Mama’ by Kanye West and sang them out loud!”
Having taken up 2nd place in the World Cup qualifying group behind Euro 2013 finalists Norway, the Netherlands defeated Scotland in the play-off semi-final in October. A 2-1 win at Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh was achieved thanks to goals from Lieke Martens and Manon Melis.
The same two players were on the scoresheet in the second leg in Rotterdam as a 2-0 win set up a final showdown with the Italians. Despite Melania Gabbiadini striking first for the Azzurre in Den Haag, 18-year-old goal machine Vivianne Miedema salvaged a draw to take to Verona.
Five days later, Roger Reijners’ team were celebrating a 2-1 victory that sent them through to the World Cup. Miedema notched a double, taking her tally to 16 in the qualifying campaign and making her the leading scorer overall.
Daniëlle set up the first of those goals in Italy and the number 10 was very pleased with the tournament draw that pits the Netherlands against host nation Canada, as well as New Zealand and China.
“It is a great draw; the three countries are challenging and a good test to play against. Every country has its own qualities to make them a difficult opponent.
“Unfortunately, we still have to wait until June! We’re really looking forward to it and will use all the time together for good preparation for the tournament.
“We will love to play against Canada as the host country; that gives something special to the match. We hope there will be a lot of support!”
At the beginning of last month, it was announced that the BeNe League, which sees the top Dutch and Belgian teams face each other each season, will end after the current campaign. The competition began in 2012 and has so far been won on both occasions by FC Twente.
This season concludes in May and Standard de Liège top the standings at present, with Daniëlle’s PSV down in 8th position out of the 13 teams. The BeNe League has been hit by the withdrawal of clubs in its three years, as K. Sint-Truidense VV, FC Utrecht and Royal Antwerp have fallen by the wayside.
Belgian and Dutch teams will have their own leagues again after this season, and Daniëlle, whose PSV finished 3rd in 2012/13, describes perceptions of women’s football in the Netherlands and its current state.
“There is always room for improvement but I am content about women’s football in Holland. The clubs are participating in the BeNe League for the third season and people are getting used to women’s football and the competition.
“The competition is more steady; no uncertainties about the participating clubs like in the past. In Holland, girls’ and women’s soccer is the fastest growing team sport.
“In the early days, there were always a lot of jokes about women’s football but nowadays the sport is more accepted in Holland. This is also because of the big clubs in men’s soccer like PSV continuing with women’s soccer and wanting to develop the sport in the future.
“This has a lot of potential in my opinion, but it can and may go faster.”
Once led by former Australia coach Hesterine de Reus, PSV now have the Croatian Nebojsa Vuckovic at the helm. After a 3-1 loss at home to Telstar last time out, they return to action in the KNVB Cup at SC Buitenveldert on February 14th, before a home league match with KAA Gent six days later.
The team play at Sportcomplex De Herdgang, where PSV’s men’s team train, and Daniëlle attends the Johan Cruyff University, which helps athletes by providing studies to support them after their career. Daniëlle touches upon this as she sheds some light on life away from the pitch.
“I’m always staying close to sport. I love to play sports and being active; it really satisfies me and makes me happy.
“Eventually, I want to do something in sports but I’m not sure in which form. I study at the JCU – sport marketing and sport management – so I have opportunities for the future, but for now I will work on the goals I want to achieve with football.
“I have some hobbies besides football: drawing, painting, mountain biking, playing tennis, shopping, and being with friends.”
The days seem to be disappearing quickly as we approach the upcoming edition of the pinnacle of the women’s game. The cities of Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg will welcome a whole host of nationalities in what will be as much a celebration of a game so many love as it will be a competition.
The Netherlands will be there, and Daniëlle will be doing all she can to ensure she is too. For the time being, it is a look back over those she has worked with in the first few years of her career up to now, as she takes on the regular 5-a-side closing question on this site.
Asked to place herself into the line-up and to select four of her best teammates to join her, here are the players who got the call for Daniëlle’s all-Dutch selection.
“That is a tough question but I choose: Lieke Martens (forward), Kika van Es (defender), Loes Geurts (goalkeeper) and Mauri van de Wetering (forward). A mix of teammates at PSV/FC Eindhoven and the national team, I choose these girls because they are excellent players.
“I play at my best with them but they also know me very well. I have a real connection with these girls and also the other way around.
“I think that is very important for every team – not only very good players but players with a good connection.”
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