ZEIST, Netherlands, Aug 1, (AFP): Friends or not, Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal will be all business when she faces her in-form Arsenal teammate and England striker Jodie Taylor in the Euro semifinal on Thursday.
Taylor is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals from just three games, after being rested for the final group game against Portugal.
She scored a hat-trick against Scotland and was on the mark against Spain in the group and France in the quarter-final.
“She’s on fire and it’s great for me to see this because of course she’s still my teammate,” the 27-year-old Van Veenendaal told AFP at the Netherlands’ training base in Zeist.
“Every little chance is a goal. She’s a real striker, she’s running, she’s working hard, and she has the luck on her side. She’s a great player.”
“We’re good, we did a lot of extra training last season to prepare us both for the Euros so I guess she knows exactly what kind of goalkeeper I am and I know what kind of striker she is.”
“But for now we have just one job and that’s to win our next game,” added Van Veenendaal, who joined Arsenal in 2015, a year before Taylor.
Van Veenendaal conceded only once at the women’s Euro when she misjudged Belgian Tessa Wullaert’s vicious lob into the top corner, and the Netherlands have a perfect record after winning all group games and their semifinal against Sweden.
But so do England, who breezed through the group stage with ten goals for and one against before edging France 1-0 owing to Taylor’s clinical 60th-minute finish.
“I know what kind of striker she is, I’ve played more than a season with her,” says Van Veenendaal.
“I’m training every day with her so I knew she could play like this. It doesn’t really surprise me, to be honest.” Taylor also scored when the two teams last met in a friendly last November, handing England a 1-0 win with a lob over Dutch keeper Loes Geurts after coming on as a substitute.
“Maybe it’s good that she scored at that moment because now we are ready for her,” said Van Veenendaal, who is not by far the only Super League player on the Dutch team.
“Many of our players from the national team here are playing in England so they know us really well but of course we know exactly how they play,” she added.
Danielle van de Donk and substitute Dominique Janssen play for Arsenal, defender Mandy van den Berg for Reading, and young striker Vivianne Miedema signed up with Arsenal from Bayern Munich before the Euro.
“We are playing every week on the highest level in the English league so we know what kind of football they’re going to play,” said Van Veenendaal.
“Of course it’s very special, I know most of the players, but for now we’re playing for our own countries and I’m from the Netherlands and I really want to beat them.”
In their last encounter at the Euro, England beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the 2009 semifinals after extra time with the decider scored by Jill Scott, who is in the Netherlands but will not play after two bookings.
“Times change for them and also for us so it’s not deja-vu,” said Van Veenendaal.
“We’re just playing our tournament, we try to prepare every game and Thursday is our next game so that’s the most important part for now.”
Women’s Euro newcomers Austria are bracing for their semifinal against Denmark fully aware that Thursday’s encounter will be a world apart from last month’s 4-2 win in a friendly.
“It’s going to be a completely different game, the friendly was weeks ago,” right full back Katharina Schiechtl told AFP at Austria’s training ground in Wageningen.
“Denmark have presented themselves very well so far at the Euros, they’ve played stronger and stronger every game.”
“Besides, they have high-class individual players like Pernille Harder,” added Schiechtl.
She was on the pitch on July 6 when Austria beat the Danes owing to braces from Nicole Billa and Sarah Zadrazil. So was left full back Verena Aschauer, who said Denmark were a little more acceptable opponent than Germany, the eight-time champion eliminated by Denmark in the quarter-finals.
“I wouldn’t prefer Germany, but in the semifinal it doesn’t matter who you play against, everything is possible in one game,” said the 23-year-old, who plays for Freiburg in the Bundesliga.
“But Denmark sounds a little better than Germany.”
Aschauer added she had no doubt Austria – which enjoys massive fan support at home – was ready for the challenge.
“Our team is something very special in every sense of the word,” she added.
“Of course team spirit is the most important thing, the key factor, but we are also very good individually.
“What makes us special is that we stick together no matter what, and we always believe until the final whistle that we can make it.”
“That’s what we proved for example in the game with Spain, but also in the other games.”
Austria surprisingly won their group after beating Switzerland and Iceland and a 1-1 draw with France.
Aschauer and the lanky Schiechtl, who is 24 and plays for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, agreed the quarter-final win against Spain on penalties after a goalless draw was the biggest of their careers so far.
“Incredible, amazing,” said Schiechtl. “It’s a dream come true at the moment, and speaking of the semifinal we’re going to put in everything we have left in us.” “But Denmark is going to be a hard task.”