‘Welten is from another planet,’ says Belgian coach Niels Thijssen

Lidewij Welten’s beguiling play in the match against Spain has also captivated Belgium’s Dutch coach Niels Thijssen. Tonight his team has the tricky task of stopping the queen of the dribble.

Thijssen’s eyes begin to glint when he reflects on the way Welten cut through the Spanish defence on Friday evening. ‘I was in touch with the rest of the technical crew during the match and at one point someone said “she’s from another planet” and it really does seems like that,’ he says. ‘She can’t be categorized. The Netherlands has some great players but Lidewij has something else. I thoroughly enjoy watching her in action.’

Jill Boon, a forward for both the Belgian national team and Eindhoven club Oranje-Rood, has nothing but wonder for the player she considers a role model. ‘Lidewij was fantastic,’ she says. ‘I really look up to her. She is an unbelievably good centre forward.  After all, there is a reason she was chosen as the best player in the world in 2015.’

The Belgian Red Panthers roared to victory over the Czech Republic (6-0) Photo: Frank Uijlenbroek

If you listen to Thijssen and Boon talking about their admiration for Welten, you would never think they might believe their team can stop her, and that the number 14 in the world could win. Nevertheless, Belgium is the only country to beat the Netherlands in regular playing time in the past year. A few weeks ago, during the Rabo Super, Belgium beat the Dutch women 1-0, in a result that was completely unexpected. ‘I don’t put too much store by that result,’ says Thijssen. ‘We were only in the Dutch circle twice and scored once. That is the way we should look at it, nothing else. I do value the fact we have shown we can beat the Netherlands, but we have to be honest about this. The odds are heavily in the Netherlands’ favour.’

Boon is well aware that beating the Netherlands once is one thing, but twice is a different story altogether.  ‘We know it is going to be tricky,’ she says. ‘A friendly is different to a tournament. But it is not impossible. The Netherlands is not from another planet. They might be the best in the world, but they are from our world. And in hockey, the strangest things can happen.’

‘I expect the stadium to be packed out with Oranje supporters,’ says Thijssen. ‘But that will be a boost to us as well as the Dutch. We’ve waited a long time to play in a big tournament such as this one. And we are going to enjoy all of it.’