To do it, we had to get a victory inside the mouth of the lion, against Equatorial Guinea in a stadium where they had never lost. The whole country would have had three days of holiday if they had won that game – that was the impact of it. And they did everything to try and stop us, from filming our training to trying to kick us out of our hotel.
When we won the game 1-0, you would not believe the feeling. Everybody was crying. If you see the pictures of that moment and the explosion of emotions, it is really something.
You remember what I said about the feeling that I had with the Netherlands when we qualified for the Euros? If you take that, and add to it knowing and feeling – and everybody felt it in their toes – that life would change dramatically, then wow… that is such an amazing feeling.
My time with that team definitely left a mark on me. I learned so much about what is really important in life.
Sometimes in our western culture, I see people moaning because they have to miss their phone for half a day or something, and I cannot stand it. They don’t realise that we have everything we want. That it’s the most comfortable place on earth to live.
“Do not forget, in every country there have been other women fighting the same battles”
A lot of people look at my path in this sport and label me a pioneer. To be honest, it’s something I can do without. I am a pioneer because no one else did it earlier. Because I had to open all of the doors.
In a documentary about my life and the changes I have made for girls, Louis van Gaal spoke about it, saying: “That is the prize that she needs to take.” And I know it’s something that, on one hand, I need to be proud of. But, on the other, I wish there was no need for a pioneer – because it means that there was no woman before me who did it.
It also means that, sometimes, people don’t see past that label. They don’t see that I’m a top coach: the quality of my work, the achievements of my teams, the studies I’ve done and how I have proven myself. None of those things are highlighted by the word ‘pioneer’.
I am proud that I created opportunities for players to make a difference in their lives, though. That, without women like me, the game would never have been where it is now. Because do not forget, in every country there have been other women fighting the same battles.
But it’s not about me. It never has been. It’s about the next generation, and making sure the opportunities are there for all women in the game.
And that starts right from the beginning, with little girls who just want to play football.