Dutch celebrate first women's international soccer title
By Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - More than ten thousand football fans thronged the central Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, clad in orange in honour of the national women's team's first international title, following their 4-2 victory over Denmark in the final of the European championship.
Women and girls in particular turned out in force for the celebration, thrilled by the team's unexpected success on Sunday in a sport dominated in Europe for decades by Germans and Scandinavians.
Fans danced and sang hours before the arrival of the football stars on the podium in a packed city park.
"We really are here for the women," 63-year-old fan Ineke told Reuters. "I don't normally go to such events, but what these women have done is phenomenal."
The three-week tournament held in stadiums across the country provoked great enthusiasm for women's football in the Netherlands.
The Dutch women drew a record, sell-out crowd of nearly 30,000 to the final, with around 3 million more watching at home and many hailing the "family friendly" atmosphere.
"The Dutch national team always creates a good atmosphere, better than when the local club plays," a young fan from Utrecht, holding her 5-month old baby, said.
"Now the women have shown that they can do it too."
Football is one of the fastest growing sports amongst girls and women in the Netherlands, with the country's football association KNVB registering more than 150,000 players in 2016, up from 65,000 some 20 years ago.
The women's game has seen the setting up of a top flight of eight teams but it is still largely an amateur sport. Matches in the Eredivisie attract only a few hundred fans on average and many of the top players leave for bigger leagues in England, Germany, France and Sweden.
A notable example is 24-year- old forward Lieke Martens, who was named player of the tournament on Sunday and will play for FC Barcelona this season.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Andrew Bolton)