As imperious as the Netherlands were in lifting the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Serbia last year, coach Albert Stuivenberg is treading carefully ahead of his team's title defence in Slovenia next month.
The Netherlands' 2011 triumph was the first in their history at U17 level and they are now looking to become only the second team – after Spain in 2007 and 2008 – to retain the trophy. They will have no lack of experience in the dugout, with Stuivenberg presiding over his fifth final tournament in six years in charge. However, up against the hosts, Poland and Belgium in Group B, he is taking nothing for granted.
"I think the media will say 'the Netherlands are the favourites in that group'," Stuivenberg told UEFA.com. "But we have a whole new group; every year we have a new team so it's always a very exciting period for the players, because they experience for the first time what playing at a European Championship means. It's a great challenge for us as staff to prepare well, and hopefully it will be enough.
"Besides Slovenia all the teams [in our section] qualified by coming top in their groups so it's a tough draw, but we will see." While the Dutch and Belgium topped their elite round groups on goal difference, Poland did so with a game to spare. With Slovenia an automatic finals entrant, Stuivenberg admitted at the tournament draw earlier this month that he and his team had plenty of homework to do before their opening fixture against the hosts in Maribor on Friday 4 May.
"We have already played against Belgium already, in a friendly, and they are a very strong side," he said. "Their way of playing looks a lot like our way of playing, so they will be tough opponents. Poland we don't know; they qualified after two games so that's a very good performance. But we don't know what their qualities are at this time.
"Slovenia we don't know anything about at the moment, so hopefully we get some information about them. There will maybe be a lot of spectators, so it is a game to look forward to."
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