Lieke Martens - the Dutch star hoping to fulfil Cruyff's World Cup dream

After starring in the Netherlands side that won Euro 2017, Lieke Martens has her sights set on this year's World Cup as she dreams of winning a prize that always eluded her illustrious compatriot, Johan Cruyff.

The discreet 26-year-old might not say so herself, but she is one of the stars of the women's game.

Quick and powerful, the forward was thrust into the public eye with her performances two years ago, as the Netherlands won the European Championship on home soil.

She wowed observers by pulling off a 'Cruyff turn', the skill made so famous by the great man himself in the 1970s, and scored in the 4-2 win over Denmark in the final.

Named player of the tournament, she then joined Barcelona from Rosengard. On the back of that, Martens -- who has already won over 100 caps for her country -- was named UEFA's female player of the year for 2017, going on stage to collect her award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

She also won the FIFA Best Player prize for that same, memorable year. As she later admitted: "My life changed radically after the Euro."

There are certain similarities with the late Cruyff in the way she plays, and there is also the Barcelona connection -- Cruyff played for Barca before revolutionising the club in his time as coach at the Camp Nou.

"I have a lot of respect for Cruyff," she said in a recent interview with AFP.

"What he has done, he changed a lot. He changed things at Barca and he also changed a lot of things in Holland, it's amazing what he has done for football," added Martens, who is also studying a Masters in football business at the Johan Cruyff Institute.

Martens needed time to adapt after arriving in Catalonia, where she has also had some fitness problems, but she quickly settled into the Barcelona way of playing, a style that is Cruyff's legacy.

- 'Pillar' of Dutch success -

"How we play for the national team, 4-3-3, is like how we want to play at Barca," she said.

"I think the girls (at Barcelona) are more technical than we are in the national team. We are more patient at Barca but in the national team we want to play sometimes more vertical."

In the club season just finished, the Catalans finally saw their ambitious recruitment policy pay dividends as they reached the Champions League final, although they were beaten 4-1 by Lyon.

Hopes are high that Barcelona can build on that, but in the meantime Martens is targeting more major tournament success with her country.

The Netherlands face New Zealand in their opening World Cup game in Group E in Le Havre on Tuesday.

"She has a very calming influence," said Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman of Martens. "She knows what we are capable of and knows how to reassure us. She brings balance to the team. She is the pillar of our success."

It remains to be seen if the 'Leeuwinnen' (Lionesses) will be able to finally deliver a world title for the Netherlands, whose men's team have been beaten World Cup finalists three times, including with Cruyff in 1974.

"We have a really good team. We really believe that we can do really well. I'm excited to see who is going to win because it's not easy anymore for the big teams to win the title," Martens said.

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