The European Universities Football Championship finally kicks off in Tirana, Albania, on 25 June. Wageningen University will be taking part in the men’s and women’s competitions for the first time. Captains Judith Alkema (women) and Rijk Dersjant (men) are looking forward to it.
‘Behind you,’ shouts someone on De Bongerd’s main football pitch, where the women’s team is practising. ‘We train every Wednesday,’ says Alkema, one of the captains of the women’s team. ‘Most of the players don’t know one another that well, but we are really growing as a team. We have recently been practising seven-a-side football because that is what we will be playing in Albania. I was surprised by that because the men will be playing the normal 11-a-side and that is what we women are all used to. Different rules apply in seven-a-side football and so we need different tactics. On the plus side, this variant is a lot faster and more dynamic.’
The final for the men’s competition is in a stadium that can seat 20,000, says Alkema. ‘It’s not clear whether the women’s final will be there too, because apparently the pitch isn’t suitable for the seven-a-side game. The organization is working on it so we assume that is where we will be playing. Of course we women don’t want to play on a second-rate pitch.’
The preparations for the men’s championship have taken a bit longer to get going, says Dersjant. ‘The standard is pretty high at these European Championships so we had to find a team of lads who can play really well. We now have a group of 17 top-class footballers.’
The first training session for the men’s team was on 22 May. ‘All the lads play for clubs so it wasn’t possible to get them together for a practice before then,’ explains Dersjant. ‘The players already had two training sessions and one match a week with their club team. Now the season has basically ended, so we are able to start the European Championship training.’
In addition to training sessions, both teams will be playing friendlies and competing in the Great Dutch Universities Championship (GNSK), to be held in Wageningen at the start of June. ‘You need to get into a match rhythm,’ says Alkema. ‘Then you learn how all the players run, how you can take over someone else’s position and what everyone’s strong points are.’
Of course we women don’t want to play on a second-rate pitch
What would make the championship a success? Dersjant: ‘We need to be realistic, keep the field compact and play to our strengths, namely the counter. And try to get as far as possible.’ Alkema: ‘It’s difficult to predict the standard of the other women’s teams. But for us as a team it’s not just about taking part: we want to win.’
The footballers will be travelling to Albania by bus, saving 13 tons of CO₂ emissions compared to flying. To cover the costs of registration, equipment and travel, they have set up a GoFundMe, are trying to find sponsors and are organizing activities such as a lottery. See the online version of this article for the relevant links.