Netherlands celebrate U21 glorySunday, 4 June 2006
by Kevin Ashbyfrom Estádio do Bessa Século XXI
The star name of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship proved the star attraction in the final as Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored twice to see off Ukraine and earn the Netherlands a first crown at this level.
Hosts and holders
Comparisons with the Dutch team that recovered from an opening defeat to vanquish the Soviet Union in the final of EURO '88 are obvious, and for Van Basten read Huntelaar. The AFC Ajax forward scored with a neat finish in the eleventh minute and from the penalty spot in the 43rd before Nicky Hofs added gloss with four minutes of added time played. The Netherlands will defend their title on home soil next summer, when Ukraine will hope to again be among the eight finalists after a sterling performance on their tournament debut in Portugal.
De Zeeuw fit
As predicted by coach Foppe de Haan, midfield motor Demy de Zeeuw overcame a groin strain to take his place in a Netherlands team unchanged for the third match in succession. Unlike the side beaten by Ukraine on the opening day of the tournament, this was a Dutch selection imbibed with a winning spirit and within 20 seconds left-back Urby Emanuelson had drilled a crisp shot into the midriff of Andriy Pyatov.
Opposite coach Olexiy Mykhaylychenko again proved himself the master of the unpredictable by dropping set-piece specialist Adrian Pukanych in favour of Olexiy Godin who had enjoyed a first taste of championship action in Thursday's semi-final defeat of Serbia and Montenegro. The midfield player had a busy start, having a powerful drive deflected before taking part in a sweeping one-touch Ukraine move which concluded with Artem Milevskiy rolling in Taras Mikhalik whose low shot was well saved by the advancing Kenneth Vermeer.
Having gone so close to wresting the early advantage, Ukraine found themselves behind as semi-final hero Hofs played a long crossfield ball over Olexandr Yatsenko which Huntelaar controlled beautifully before dispatching a low shot beyond Pyatov. Ukraine responded in kind, Godin curling a corner to Dmytro Chygrynskiy who used his considerable height to plant a bullet header against the base of Vermeer's post in the 15th minute.
The woodwork again came to the goalkeeper's rescue soon after, as Godin's curled free-kick skimmed behind off the upright. Those efforts were to prove the Ukrainian highlights of a first half in which the Netherlands assumed total control. Huntelaar went close to doubling his tally with an audacious flick from Emanuelson's low centre before doing just that after Olexandr Yatsenko deliberately handled Ismaïl Aissati's cross from the right under pressure from the AFC Ajax forward, who stepped up to send Pyatov the wrong way from the spot.
The Jong Oranje had allowed France to fight back from an identical situation three days ago before recovering to snatch victory in extra time, and again had to survive a nervous second half as the fresh legs of Maxym Feschuk and Olexandr Aliyev brought Ukraine fresh impetus. Feschuk curled a neat shot narrowly over and Aliyev elicited a superb fingertip save from the excellent Vermeer in between Yevgen Cheberyachko firing wastefully wide after the balletic footwork of Milevskiy had created the opportunity.
Hofs, with a scuffed attempt, and Castelen's rasping drive ensured the traffic was not all of the one-way variety although Vermeer had to be first alert and then brave to smother efforts from Aliyev and Chygrynskiy, while the substitute also blazed over after a marvellous corner in which three players in succession dummied the ball to carve out an opening. Had Huntelaar been wearing blue rather than orange perhaps the destination of the trophy would have been different, something that was never in doubt following Olaxandr Romanchuck's second yellow card in the 76th minute and Hofs's close-range finish as the celebrations were about to begin.
Carlsberg Man of the Match: Klaas Jan Huntelaar
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