Netherlands top Canada but still looking to fulfill potential in Women's World Cup

The Netherland's Lineth Beerensteyn celebrates the deciding goal over Canada with teammate Shanice van de Sanden. VI Images via Getty Images

REIMS, France -- The Netherlands secured the top spot in Group E on Thursday, beating a valiant Canada team 2-1. The European champions will face Japan in the last 16 on June 25 in Rennes. Canada will face either the United States or Sweden.

The game could have been totally different, but VAR overturned a penalty given by French referee Stephanie Frappart after just 90 seconds in favour of the Canadians.

Anouk Dekker and Lineth Beerensteyn scored on either side of Christine Sinclair's goal for Canada in the second half.

Sinclair is eternal.

With her clinical finish, and on her only chance, Sinclair became only the second player in addition to Brazil's Marta to score in five World Cups (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019). At 36, she now has 10 goals in World Cup play, matching American Carli Lloyd. Only Marta (17) and fellow Brazilian Cristiane (11) have more than them among active players. More importantly maybe, Sinclair is a step closer to becoming the all-time scorer in women's international football history. She is now at 182 goals in 285 caps, only two behind American Abby Wambach (184).

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"I am a goal scorer; it is nice to score goals. It makes me feel so young to score in a fifth World Cup," Sinclair said laughing after the game. "I am just proud. To be up there with Marta is a huge honour. Proud of the longevity of my career and my ability to have changed and adapted and grown with the game and still have an impact and burying goals today."

Oranje, Oranje, Oranje!

The Dutch fans are among the best fans of the tournament so far. They numbered around 12,000 on Thursday in Reims, putting a great atmosphere in the 21,000-seat Stade Auguste-Delaune. They have trumpets, flags, paint all over their faces. They clap and chant a lot. They erupted when Beerensteyn scored the winner and got the rest of the stadium going all afternoon long with their rendition of Verdi's "Aida." The footage of the a sea of orange shirts in the streets of Reims descending toward the stadium was one of the highlights of the day.

Huitema's debut was one to remember.

We will see much more of Jordyn Huitema in years to come. The Canadian made her World Cup debut on Thursday at 18 years, 43 days old. The Canadian prodigy played on the right of her team's 4-4-2 formation for more than an hour before moving in the centre, her best position. We saw glimpse of the big talent that she possesses. She had some great touches, she created a chance for herself, including a goal that was ruled out -- correctly -- for offside and provided the second assist on Sinclair's goal. She really is a diamond in the rough. Fans of Paris Saint-Germain, where she will play next season, should be very excited.

Huitema had her parents, two brothers and grandmother at the stadium watching her.

"It was incredible. Nerves turned quickly into excitement, I loved it," Huitema said. "I knew I was a little offside on my goal, but you never know so I kept playing and scored, but it didn't count.

"Ever since I was 12, it was a dream of mine to play for this country at this World Cup. I wrote it down as a long term goal but not really expecting to make it. Fiction has become reality, and it's pretty cool."

The Netherlands have not fulfilled their potential yet.

It is three wins out of three for the Netherlands in this World Cup, but it is pretty obvious that they haven't reached their peak yet. In possession, they can, and should, do much better. On Thursday, Lieke Martens hardly touched the ball, and the front four (Martens, Daniëlle van de Donk, Shanice van de Sanden and Vivianne Miedema) is not firing yet either. Miedema hit the post in the first half after a great turn, and Van de Donk tried a superb, albeit audacious, overhead kick, but that's pretty much it from them. They are still too wasteful technically on the ball, and they let Canada come back in the game too easily. However, to qualify by only being at 70 percent of their best, and to have a very affordable route toward the semifinals, is pretty good.

It's a golden path for the Dutch; a tough one for the Canadians.

By topping Group E, the European champions will face Japan in the last 16 on June 25 in Rennes, a game where they will be favourites. They are still very much a dark horse in this competition, but have a very interesting route toward the semifinals: either a quarterfinal against Italy or a team which finished third in their group. For Canada, finishing second of the group means they could face Sweden or the United States, an encounter they would surely not look forward to.