Albert Stuivenberg has led the Netherlands to his fourth UEFA European Under-17 Championship in five years – but this qualification was special.
Having missed out last year, 12 months after losing the final to hosts Germany after extra time, Stuivenberg's side were up against Austria, Croatia and Portugal in a tough elite round group. The Netherlands beat Austria 2-1, held Croatia 0-0 then defeated Portugal 1-0 to finish top, but that was not all Stuivenberg had on his plate.
"Besides qualification, my second son Joël was also born that week," he told UEFA.com. "So it was a very heavy week, with little sleep, but also a very successful week, with the result a healthy child and qualification. Fortunately [the birth] happened from Monday to Tuesday night, and the next match was on Thursday, so I could be at the delivery. And the rest of the programme was adjusted so I could be with the team but also partly still be at home. So it was an unforgettable qualification week."
However, with old nemeses Germany, Romania and the Czech Republic awaiting in Group B in Serbia from 3 May, Stuivenberg wants to see improvement. "We have to become a bit more calm, instead of continuously playing at the highest tempo," he said. "And we need to be more efficient in the final third. Up to the penalty area it goes well, but we could improve the final pass and positioning in front of the goal."
Looking at the opposition, he mused: "We know the German team pretty well. They are an excellent team. In the very first match of this season we lost 2-1 against them. The Czech Republic stood in our way of the final tournament last season. Romania are a bit unknown, but reaching the final tournament says enough about their qualities. It will be very hard to predict how far we can get."
Few coaches have Stuivenberg's qualification record in his five seasons at the helm and the former Feyenoord academy head explained what went into it. "Every season it is a real challenge," he said. "You start a process somewhere in September with the intention of further developing players, but also the intention that through that development you will be able to reach the European Championship final tournament.
"At the start of the season you usually say to yourself, 'There's still a lot of work to do to achieve that.' Because you often do not have too much time together with the boys to work on that development, every time it is a huge challenge to achieve it in the end.
"Qualifying four times in five years obviously gives me satisfaction as a coach. But more importantly, you know playing in these final tournaments is very important for the development of the players in their future careers, in the path from youth towards professional football. So what makes me even prouder is that a lot of the lads from the past four years have developed into regular first-team players at their clubs already."
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