Rigters relishing surprise roleThursday 14 June 2007
by Berend Scholtenfrom Groningen
For Maceo Rigters the UEFA European Under-21 Championship could not have gone any better so far.
First selected for the Netherlands U21s on 5 February this year, the NAC Breda striker was not expected to play a major role in this month's tournament. However, when coach Foppe de Haan decided to change his 4-3-3 system to incorporate a second central striker, Rigters, who worked with De Haan at SC Heerenveen in the 2003/04 season, suddenly became a surprise starter.
"I'll be fair, it was a surprise to me, because I was the last of 23 players so I was already happy to be here and now I am very happy to have played the whole 90 minutes in the first two matches," he told uefa.com. He felt especially happy after an impressive contribution to Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Portugal, first winning the penalty from which Ryan Babel opened the scoring and then converting Royston Drenthe's cross for the second. Those efforts earned him the Carlsberg Man of the Match award and he said: "I am very proud of myself and the team because it is a team effort, so I am proud to be named man of the match."
The penalty incident followed a nice combination with strike partner Babel, who sent Rigters clear before he was upended by Paulo Ribeiro. "He touched me. I thought maybe the referee did not want to give it but the keeper touched me and I fell, and it was a fair penalty so I am happy that he gave it," said Rigters. The 23-year-old's goal followed on 75 minutes and he added: "It was good play from Royston Drenthe. He played the ball to me at the near post and I hit it in with my left foot. I was very happy to score because I had missed two chances. It was a relief, but I was already proud of the whole team and myself - we did a good job to reach the semi-finals."
Born on 22 January 1984, Rigters is the Dutch squad's oldest player and only just qualified for this tournament. However, unless chosen as one of three permitted over-23 players, his age would rule him out of the Olympic Games for which the Jong Orange qualified by reaching the last four on Wednesday. "I am too old to go there but all the other players will go," he said. "It is what we came here to qualify for and it is fantastic we achieved it." Their place in the last four may be secured but Rigters added there was no chance of the Dutch taking their final group match against Belgium lightly. "We are very serious, we want to win any match and be a good team and will do our best against Belgium also."
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