“Well, the day before she sleeps in the basement of course”, Claudia van den Heiligenberg looks jokingly ahead to tonight’s World Cup qualifier between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic earlier this week.
The ‘she’ the 97-time international is talking about is Lucie Vonková, also a former international, but for the Czech Republic. And above all, her wife.
Both women have now finished football, but are still active in the football world. The 36-year-old Van den Heiligenberg, who gave up her kicks in 2018, now works for the players’ union VVCS, while her wife, who only stopped last summer, is an assistant coach at the Ajax promise team, the club for which she played for the last two years. .
In qualifying group C, the Netherlands leads with ten points from four matches. The only damage ran into the Orange against, yes, the Czech Republic. The debut of national coach Mark Parsons, the successor of Sarina Wiegman who left for England, ended in Groningen for the European champion in a disappointing 1-1.
“It’s great fun to watch the matches together. We then sit on the couch at home very fanatically”, Van den Heiligenberg paints a picture. “But in the last two matches between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic – both with the men (2-0 during the European Championship, ed.) and the women – it did not go very well for me. But I did have a happy woman at home.”
“Yes, of course I was happy with how it went,” said 29-year-old Vonková, who wore the national jersey 73 times, about the women’s encounter. “And they were in the Czech Republic too: 1-1 against the best team in Europe. Hopefully that will also be the case in the next game. I have a winner’s mentality, I can’t stand losing.”
‘miss the flow’
It’s not just football that counts at their home, but because of their past and present life, there is a lot of talk about it. And certainly with the spicy duel in Ostrava approaching. Van den Heiligenberg: “We are both not very fond of the tactical story. We just like to watch and really see who plays well and who doesn’t. We don’t go into that very deeply.”
Van den Heiligenberg, daughter of ex-international Mary van de Meer, is less enthusiastic about the current Orange. “I miss the flow they had before. I already found that at the Olympics. You also notice that it is still a bit searching with the new coach. They don’t really seem to know: what do we want? Of course we have to give him a bit of time with the players.”
The Czech formation also needs time, her wife knows. “We still have to make steps in the Czech Republic and also become more professional. The Netherlands is much further along than we are. We want to go to the Netherlands, but that will take a long time. We have a really good team with young girls, but they still have to develop.”
“There are finally girls who play abroad. That makes the team better. It’s a shame that we lost to Iceland. I didn’t see that game, but I heard that we were better. They had five chances and scored four and we had fifteen chances and zero goals.”
Vonková expects a different game on Friday evening than two months ago in Groningen. “We will have to play more offensively”, she refers to the ranking: the group winner goes to the 2023 World Cup, number two ends up in the play-offs for two tickets. “This will give the Netherlands a little more space. I’m afraid of that.”
Speaking of being afraid: which Czech players should the Orange be extra wary of? “I think…”, begins Vonková, who is still in contact with the Czech national coach before every international match, enthusiastically. But then: “No, I’m not saying who the Netherlands should pay attention to! Just wait, haha.”
Vonková: “Well, I think they know who our best players are at the Netherlands. Andrea Staskova is a top striker at the moment, I think. She plays at Juventus. And Tereza Szewieczkova is fit again after an ankle injury. So hopefully it will come the good.”
Together on the couch they go to see what it will be. “Last time Lucie kept saying: gosh you are bad, gosh you are bad”, Van den Heiligenberg recalls. “Until I said: yes, now I know. I hope it is reversed this time. Although the circumstances in the Czech Republic will be quite difficult for the Dutch national team, I think.”
In any case, Vonková provides a pleasant evening. “I’ve stopped playing football, so I can enjoy with a beer in hand.”