|Marlou de Kleijn hopes that their team spirit will take the Netherlands to their first Final at an U20 European Championship Women|
By Paul Nilsen
Whatever happens in their U20 European Championship Women Semi-Final against Russia, the Netherlands have made up for their disappointing performances last year in Novi Sad when they underachieved and didn't even make the last eight.
This time however, under new head coach Rene Spandauw, they have certainly punched their weight. And, if they finish on the podium then they will have undoubtedly punched above their weight - and according to Quarter-Final hero Marlou de Kleijn, far outstripping their pre-tournament expectations.
"Our goal was to firstly, to at least get past the first stage of the tournament but of course we now find ourselves in the Semi-Final," she explained.
"I really want to get to that Final and to go for the gold medal.
"I am not sure what the difference is this year compared to last time. We have definitely worked very hard and we have a really good spirit.
"It's been a long summer for everyone and we all feel so proud to be playing for our country and for me and my team-mates, this is the most important thing to us."
Their 71-63 Quarter-Final success against Ukraine was certainly one of the most eye-catching and assured performances of the entire competition and unsurprisingly, de Kleijn was delighted after stepping up to harvest a terrific 23-point haul.
Indeed, the ability of the Netherlands to find a different game winner on any given night has been a real feature during their last few games, with others such as Zera Butter coming up with the goods and that is a real bonus according to de Kleijn.
"Most of the players can step up on any given night for us and that is hugely important," she agreed.
"We actually have a great team mentality but we also have the players that can be really good at any time, in any game and help to get the win for us.
"It felt so great to be that player against Ukraine and I was just so proud of my team because I thought we fought so hard to reach the last four."
There's little doubt that the Netherlands may have to rely on more than just one outstanding display to topple a Russian team that despite some difficulties, now stands just 40 minutes away from the Final.
They may have been decidedly inconsistent during their time in Debrecen, but Russia knows how to collect medals and this traditional powerhouse is looking ominously intent on adding to their prestigious history in the tournament.
They found their best performance to date to shoot down Sweden in the Quarter-Finals, finding a nice inside-outside balance between the presence of Ksenia Tikhonenko under the hoop and the perimeter shooting threat posed by Darya Namok, Galina Kiseleva, Ekaterina Fedorenkova and Alexandra Stolyar.
This game is likely to be won according to how the Netherlands lock down the Russian three-point shooters who have all taken turns to make big shots in those games Russia has won in order to stutter to this excellent position they now find themselves in.
When it comes to reputation, Russia has one which dictates they will progress, but new kids on the block Netherlands have every chance of a first ever Final appearance if they can repeat their Quarter-Final form.
It promises to be an intriguing contest.