UEFA European Under-17 Championship holders the Netherlands pipped Serbia to first place in elite round Group 5 after a last-day draw in Schijndel ensured they will defend their title in Slovenia in May.
Albert Stuivenberg's side had beaten Albania 4-0 and the Republic of Ireland 2-1 prior to Tuesday's decider while Serbia's results had been 3-0 and 1-0. Substitute Pascal Huser put the Netherlands ahead tonight on the hour and although Milan Jokić levelled with two minutes left as Serbia pushed hard in a frantic finish, their superior goal difference means the holders join hosts Slovenia and fellow confirmed qualifiers Germany – who they beat in last year's final – Iceland and Poland in the eight-team draw in Ljubljana on 4 April for the tournament from 4 to 16 May.
Containing three of last year's winning squad, the Netherlands opened with a 4-0 defeat of Albania and two of those veterans contributed goals. Tonny Trindade de Vilhena missed a 26th-minute penalty but later made it 1-0 at half-time and added another after the break before Thom Haye got the third. Rai Vloet added the fourth although another 2011 winner, Nathan Ake, was also unable to convert a spot kick. Serbia overcame the Republic of Ireland 1-0 when Jokić struck on 66 minutes after good skills from impressive playmaker Filip Janković, though goalkeeper Predrag Rajković proved the hero as he saved Jonathan Leddy's penalty with two minutes left.
Serbia won again two days later, aided by a 22nd-minute red card for Albania's Eralb Sinani. Veljko Simic broke the deadlock before the break but it was to the hard-working Albanians' credit that Serbia were made to wait before Miloš Veljković's header and Janković's long-range effort clinched a 3-0 success. A Dylan Hayes penalty put Ireland ahead against the Netherlands at the break but Trindade de Vilhena again managed two goals, as he indeed did in the 2011 final against Germany, to secure a 2-1 victory.
There was a happy ending for Albania as they ended their first elite round campaign for nine years with a 2-1 win against Ireland. Kristi Marku's 35th-minute goal was cancelled out by Jack Grealish early in the second half but Franc Ymeralilaj restored Albania's advantage and Ireland lost Ryan O'Reilly to a late red card.
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