Saturday 2 June 2007


• The Netherlands are bidding to become the first team to win the European U21 Championship on home territory since the switch to a one-off game in 1994. Until then the final had been decided on a two-legged basis. Spain came closest in 1996, reaching the final where they lost on penalties to Italy.

• The hosts could also become only the third side to win consecutive U21 titles; England triumphed in 1982 and 1984 before Italy lifted the trophy in 1992 and 1994, going on to complete a hat-trick of titles in 1996. The Azurrini remain the only side to win the competition three editions running.

Kenneth Vermeer, Ron Vlaar, Arnold Kruiswijk, Daniël De Ridder, Haris Medunjanin and Ismaïl Aissati could join an illustrious group of players who have won the European U21 title twice. Only Danny Thomas (England 1982 and 1984), Dario Marcolin and Roberto Muzzi (Italy 1992 and 1994) and Fabio Cannavaro and Christian Panucci (Italy 1994 and 1996) have previously achieved that feat.

• A year ago, Vermeer, Vlaar and Aissati all started the 3-0 defeat of Ukraine while Kruiswijk and De Ridder came on as second-half substitutes. Medunjanin remained on the bench.

Vlaar and Aissati will both miss the final this time round, however, the former straining a ligament in his left knee in the semi-final against England while Aissati was ruled out of the rest of the tournament after suffering "a real setback" in his recovery from an injury to his right knee during the first game with Israel.

• Should the Netherlands triumph De Haan would become only the third coach to win two or more European U21 Championships. Dave Sexton was the first, with England in 1982 and 1984, before Cesare Maldini guided Italy to wins in 1992, 1994 and 1996.

• The Netherlands opened these finals with a 1-0 win against Israel in Heerenveen, Hedwiges Maduro scoring the only goal after ten minutes to secure a win which left his side on top of Group A - a position they never relinquished.

Royston Drenthe was named Carlsberg Man of the Match and Maceo Rigters took that honour in Groningen three days later as the hosts secured a semi-final place with a 2-1 victory against Portugal. Ryan Babel broke the deadlock from the penalty spot on 33 minutes before Rigters added a second 15 minutes from time. Two minutes later Miguel Veloso reduced the deficit with a stunning free-kick but the Netherlands held on.

• The Netherlands ended that game with Kenneth Vermeer in goal after No1 Boy Waterman was substituted in the 34th minute because of a back injury. It meant a first start in this year's finals for his deputy Vermeer against Belgium last Saturday.

• The Low Countries derby ended all-square in Heerenveen last Saturday as Sébastien Pocognoli's 70th-minute strike earned Belgium a 2-2 draw. Jean-François De Sart's team had briefly held the lead following Kevin Mirallas' opener on nine minutes before Rigters (13) swiftly restored parity. Drenthe curled in a free-kick on 37 minutes to put the Netherlands in front and Belgium were heading out until Pocognoli struck.

• After the game Netherlands coach Foppe de Haan said: "I now hope we play England because Italy are a little bit better - they have more creativity and stronger strikers. England play 4-4-2 in a way we can handle. "

• Those words looked like coming back to haunt De Haan as the Netherlands went into the last minute of their semi-final 1-0 down to England at the Abe Lenstra. Leroy Lita's 39th-minute strike appeared to be decisive before Rigters scored a stunning overhead equaliser - but that was just the start of the drama. After a goalless extra-time period the game went to an epic penalty shoot-out, the Dutch eventually prevailing 13-12 after a total of 32 spot-kicks with Gianni Zuiverloon - who plays his club football in the ground with SC Heerenveen - converting the winning penalty.

• The 13-12 penalty scoreline is a UEFA competition record.

Rigters' goal was his third of the finals, and he is now joint top scorer alongside England's Lita. Another in the final and he will become the second successive Dutchman to top the tournament scoring charts after Klaas Jan Huntelaar did so with four goals last year in Portugal.

• Carlsberg Man of the Match for a second time in four games, Rigters believes gymnastic training may have helped him score his spectacular equaliser, saying: "I have only ever scored that kind of goal in training before. The gymnastics session was good. We jumped on the trampoline so maybe that helped me in scoring this goal. I want to thank the trainer for that. "

• Doubtful with a back injury before the game goalkeeper Waterman thanked AZ Alkmaar coach Louis van Gaal for his penalty advice. "I have not stopped that many penalties before," he told "I know I can do it and talked a lot with Louis van Gaal about it. He told me to stand for as long as possible and only react to what they do. You are still tempted to dive to the corner you think they will shoot for, but I managed to stay on my feet just long enough."

De Haan will celebrate his 64th birthday on 26 June, three days after the final.

De Haan has crossed paths with Serbia coach Miroslav Djukić before. Djukić was in the Valencia CF side that won 1-0 away to a Heerenveen team coached by De Haan in the UEFA Champions League in September 2000. He also played the return match at Mestalla two months later, which ended 1-1, as the Spanish side topped the group with Heerenveen finishing bottom.

• The Netherlands have never before faced Serbia, either as an independent nation, as part of Serbia and Montenegro or Yugoslavia, in a competitive U21 match.

• The countries did meet in qualifying for the UEFA European Futsal Championship in February, however, with Serbia coasting to an emphatic 6-0 victory.

• Paired together at the FIFA World Cup last summer on 11 June, it was the Netherlands that came out on top, Arjen Robben scoring the only goal of the game on 18 minutes in Leipzig. Maduro and Babel were both unused substitutes for the Dutch, who went on to finish second in the group. Serbia and Montenegro ended at the foot of the table.

• FC Groningen midfielder Kruiswijk will play at his home stadium the Euroborg should he feature against Serbia. He has encountered Serbian opposition there before, playing all 90 minutes as Groningen beat FK Partizan 1-0 at home in the UEFA Cup first round last September but it was not enough to overhaul a 4-2 first-leg defeat. Serbia midfielder Milan Smiljanić was in the Partizan team.

• The Netherlands were awarded the right to host the 2007 UEFA European Under-21 Championship after winning the 2006 edition in Portugal. They qualified as hosts and champions and only played friendly games after winning the trophy.

• Last year was the Netherlands' first appearance in a final, having progressed beyond the last four at the third time of asking. They lost by three-goal margins in 1998 and 1988.

• The Netherlands began and ended their campaign against Ukraine last summer, losing their opening game in Agueda 2-1, then winning the final 3-0 at Boavista FC's Estádio Bessa XXI in Porto on 4 June.

• The side that day was: Vermeer, Gijs Luirink, Urby Emanuelson, Stijn Schaars, Romeo Castelen, Nicky Hofs, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Aissati, Dwight Tiendalli, Vlaar, Demy de Zeeuw. De Ridder came on as a second-half replacement, while Medunjanin and Kruiswijk were among the unused substitutes.

• The Dutch also needed extra time to see off France in the semi-final, Hofs making it 3-2 after a late Brian Bergougnoux equaliser had forced the additional 30 minutes.

• Huntelaar scored two goals in the final - one from the penalty spot - to finish as the tournament's leading scorer with four goals.

• Only six of the triumphant Dutch squad are among De Haan's 23 this time round: Vermeer, Vlaar, Kruiswijk, De Ridder, Medunjanin and Aissati.

Aissati, 18, was a key player for the Dutch last summer and was the youngest player in the squad this time around, though he was ruled out of the rest of these finals after that knee injury against Israel.

Ryan Donk left the Netherlands' training camp after the Israel match to return home for a second time as his sister was involved in a car accident. He rejoined the squad in time for the next game against Portugal.

• 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 Oranje qualified by reaching the last four.

• Team-mate Calvin Jong-A-Pin is also looking ahead to Beijing. Born in Amsterdam of Surinamese descent, his links with the Asian country go back a long way: "Five or six generations ago, Chinese traders came to Surinam to run plantations and there is Chinese blood in me," he told

Clarence Seedorf and Mark van Bommel have both expressed an interest in being one of the three over-23 players in the squad in China.

• Former Netherlands captain Frank de Boer has been an interested observer of the Jong Oranje, saying: "I'm impressed with how they play. They are so organised, not only the first eleven, but the whole squad. They only have one goal and that's the team. If they score a goal everybody is involved and that's the secret of this team."

• The Belgium and England matches at the Abe Lenstra took place in familiar surroundings for De Haan who was head coach of Heerenveen for two spells between 1985 and 1988 and 1992 and 2004, when he stepped down to take charge of the U21 side.

De Haan is the longest-serving club coach in Dutch history having spent 12 years in charge of Heerenveen and was named coach of the year in the Netherlands in 1997 and 2000.

• Three of the U21 squad have also played for the senior Dutch team. They are Babel (14 caps/4 goals), Vlaar (2/0) and Maduro (12/0).

• When Babel scored on his international debut against Romania in March 2005 he became the Netherlands' youngest goalscorer for 68 years.

• De Haan gave Babel a DVD of Eredivisie leading scorer Afonso Alves's goals to watch and learn from because he believes the 20-year-old can still improve in front of goal.

De Ridder's substitute appearance against England was his 29th U21 cap. However, he sat out the Portugal match, so even if he plays in the final he will not equal Arnold Bruggink's national record of 31 appearances.

• Newcastle United FC goalkeeper Krul is the only player in the squad who is yet to play for the U21s but was No1 in the Dutch side that made the final of the European U17 Championship two years ago.

• Last week Newcastle confirmed Krul had signed a new four-year contract. The 19-year-old, who joined the English club from ADO Den Haag in 2005, is yet to make his Premier League debut although he did keep a clean sheet in the UEFA Cup Group H game at US Città di Palermo in November.

• Overall the Netherlands have played 125 competitive matches at U21 level, winning 64 and losing 34 with 27 draws. Those games have brought 223 goals scored with 129 conceded.

© 1998-2007. All rights reserved.

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