Since the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup draw came out, it’s been one of the most highly anticipated match-ups of the tournament’s group stage.
The United States and the Netherlands face off tomorrow in Wellington in a rematch of the final four years ago, where the Americans took out their second-straight world title with a 2-0 victory.
At the Olympics quarter-finals two years later, the USA narrowly won again in a penalty shoot-out. The world number-one USA and ninth-ranked Netherlands have plenty of history.
This time, they’ll most likely be battling it out for the all-important top spot in Group E.
The Cake Tin in Wellington was sold out for this match well before the tournament kicked off, and like the 30,000 American fans that travelled Down Under for it, US head coach Vlatko Andonovski is aware of the enormity of the game.
“I wish it was a final,” Andonovski said. “We do understand and are very well aware of the importance of this game and how much it means for us going forward.”
“They’re a great team, a very organised, very disciplined team, and we saw in the first game that they played, the threats that they have in every line.
“But at the same time, I want to say that we’re ready for it. We’ve trained [and] prepared a lot for this tournament, and especially for this game.”
Midfielder Rose Lavelle echoed her coach’s sentiments: “Every time we play them, it’s a very physical, intense, intense match. I think they have a lot of different threats. They’re technical and good on set pieces, so it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re really excited for it.”
Lavelle reflected on the World Cup final four years ago where she scored the winning goal.
“It was really competitive, physical,” the 28-year-old said. “But I think that was four years ago.
“Both teams are completely different [now], different players, different coaches ... It’s a fun memory, but we have a new mindset for this game.”
Andonosvki spoke about the scale at which they prepared for this match - including the unpredictability of the Wellington weather.
“In preparation for this tournament, we planned everything. We knew exactly what we were going to face.
“The weather condition, the type of grass, the type of stadiums, the time of the games, the size of the fields.
“Everything comes into consideration in preparation for a tournament like this.”
The well-resourced four-time world champions even prepared for the new VAR system, which can add an extended amount of extra time to what players are used to.
“After the men’s World Cup, we were aware of the changes with the VAR, and also, we were aware of the additional time after the 90 minutes.
“So the preparation’s obviously wanting to not just be ready for 90, but to be ready for close to 100 minutes when it comes down to game time.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to be successful in it.”
The US have 14 players on their roster who are at the World Cup for the first time. Lavelle, now at her second, said the messaging to those younger players has been to “stay in the bubble”.
“We just have to stay together and know that whatever is going on outside, we can’t let that affect us.
“It gets crazy in these tournaments, and we’ve just got to stick together and kind of stay in our bubble - nothing can penetrate that bubble.”
The match kicks off at 1pm on Thursday in Wellington.