Dutch under-17 winners offer glimpse of future

BELGRADE - Known for a free-flowing production line of talent, the Netherlands showed off the potential national heroes of the future when they won their first under-17 European Championship title at the weekend.

They beat Germany 5-2 on Sunday in the highest-scoring final at this level, having kept six clean sheets in a row to get there.

The victory was just reward for mature performances more akin to an under-21 side or even a senior team, with the opposition largely powerless against the trademark total football the Dutch established to great effect in the 1970s.

Whether the group of outstanding youngsters will translate their talent into glittering careers enjoyed by predecessors such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit depends on how hard they work in the coming years, and on a modicum of luck.

"The objective of this tournament is to develop the players and steer them in the right direction," Dutch coach Albert Stuivenberg said before the two-week event in Serbia kicked off.

"All the players in my squad have great potential but it's difficult to say at this point in time how many of them will become top players at senior level or if any of them will.

"This is the first step and the first step is always the most important, while turning all that talent into a successful career requires a bit of luck as well."

After the wild celebrations that followed the title win, when his players hoisted him aloft, Stuivenberg added: "They have improved this season in understanding what it takes to win games."

Having cruised through their group after beating Germany 2-0 in the opening match, the Dutch knocked out last year's champions England 1-0 in the last four before defeating Germany again in the final, an act of revenge for a 2-1 loss to them in the 2009 final.


If their performances in the event featuring Europe's top eight teams is any guide, several players in the Dutch team could be worthy successors to the senior team which reached the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

Some nations who did well in the annual under-17 tournament in the past, notably former champions Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and Russia, have not excelled at senior level for one reason or another.

Spain, however, twice winners and last year's finalists, produced a plethora of brilliant players such as Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, all of whom played a key role in last year's triumph at the World Cup.

Fernando Torres, who was instrumental in Spain's conquest of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, is another player who came through the ranks and if the Dutch can emulate that kind of development they have a lot to look forward to.

Arsenal prospect Kyle Ebecilio and striker Trindade de Vilhena finished among the tournament's joint top scorers with three goals each, while crafty winger Memphis Depay showed dazzling speed and ball control on both flanks.

Playmaker Anass Achahbar was at the heart of incessant raids through the middle which deprived most rivals of any noteworthy possession of the ball, while neat team moves ripped Germany to shreds when they took risks.

"We always knew they were really strong there but congratulations to Holland because they were the best team and deserved their title," Germany coach Steffen Freund said, summing up the gulf in class between the Dutch and the rest of the field.

"These games have been a fantastic experience for my team. The Xavis and Iniestas have played in these games and that's why this tournament is really important."


England reached the finals with a crunch 2-1 win over Spain in the qualifiers and, after a patchy start in the group stage, they crushed hosts Serbia 3-0 to advance into the semi-finals.

Everton prospect Hallam Hope, also among the tournament's top scorers with three goals along with Germany's Samed Yesil, scored a superb brace in that match and showed glimpses of talent to emulate his childhood idol.

"I've always looked up to Wayne Rooney because he is a fantastic player and I hope that one day I can do the things he does at senior level," Hope told Reuters after sealing England's win over Serbia with a cracker from 25 metres.

Although he was more cautious about Hope's prospects, England manager John Peacock praised the young striker's work rate and commitment.

"He has a long way to go before he develops into a top quality striker at senior level; he is a very young player but he is prepared to learn and listen," Peacock said.

"The boy works tirelessly for the team, his endeavour, ball skills and finishing are phenomenal so we are really delighted to have him."

Another outstanding player was Czech keeper Lukas Zima, who saved two penalties against the Germans and a barrage of sitters in their three group matches, securing his country's berth in next month's under-17 World Cup in Mexico.

"He's been one of the most brilliant players of the tournament," former international referee Hugh Dallas told Reuters after Zima kept the Dutch at bay in a 0-0 draw which saw the Czechs through.

"He has every chance of becoming a world-class goalkeeper if he keeps developing at this rate," said Dallas, who was the tournament's refereeing supervisor.

"The event has been a real credit to the under-17 European Championship and it will be a fantastic experience for these young players, some of whom have the potential to take centre stage at senior level in the upcoming years."