"Welcome to the Netherlands" read the banner running the full length of the pitch in the Abe Lenstra stadium. The finals of the 16th UEFA European Under-21 Championship would soon be under way but first, the familiar ritual of an opening ceremony which coloured the pitch with the flags of the eight competing nations.
There is seldom a shortage of colour where the Netherlands are involved, of course, and the home ground of SC Heerenveen was swathed in the orange shirts, caps and costumes of Dutch fans. Even the half-time entertainers - a pair who, to the tune of Queen's Another One Bites The Dust, told us "You never can beat the Dutch" - were clad in orange suits. As it turned out, Israel could not beat the Dutch as the hosts opened the Group A programme with a 1-0 victory. Yet there was no shame in losing to the holders.
Guy Levy's talented crop are the first Israeli selection to grace the international stage since the 1976 Olympics and their followers turned a corner of this stadium light-blue. Curiously Israel began their qualifying campaign here in the Netherlands, beating Wales 3-2 in Waalwijk in front of just two travelling supporters. Their subsequent exploits have ensured no shortage of interest this time and the sizeable Israeli contingent among the 22,000 fans almost had something to sing about when Omer Peretz spurned the game's first clear opening after seven minutes.
Three minutes later, though, the tournament's opening goal came at the other end, Hedwiges Maduro finishing from close range. The goal was celebrated noisily - not least with a blast of techno over the stadium's PA system. Maduro is one of three Dutch players with senior international experience, along with captain Ron Vlaar and powerful forward Ryan Babel, who played in last summer's FIFA World Cup. Much is expected of AFC Ajax's Babel in this competition and despite missing a first-half open goal, he proved a handful for the Israel defence.
Israel have their own highly-regarded forward in Chelsea FC's Ben Sahar, who impressed with his lively movement before making way for Toto Tamuz, a scorer in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying four days ago. He was unable to make an impact during a closing quarter dominated by the Netherlands - and illuminated by the quick feet of Feyenoord wide man Royston Drenthe.
Happy hunting ground
The hosts will hope Heerenveen proves a happy hunting ground. Coach Foppe de Haan managed the local club for 12 years and he will bring his players back here for Saturday's final group fixture against Belgium and, should they win the group, for the semi-final too. But those thoughts are for another day. The Heerenveen crowd will have gone home contented and De Haan too: the holders are up and running.
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