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Hosts, holders and dreamers ready for Group B

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012, 17.05CET
Albert Stuivenberg played down the Netherlands' favourites' tag ahead of their opener against hosts Slovenia, who "can hardly wait", and Belgium are in dreamland as they meet Poland.
by Tom Kell
from Maribor
Hosts, holders and dreamers ready for Group B
Miloš Kostic, Albert Stuivenberg, Marcin Dorna and Patrick Klinkenberg with the trophy ©Sportsfile
Published: Thursday 3 May 2012, 17.05CET

Hosts, holders and dreamers ready for Group B

Albert Stuivenberg played down the Netherlands' favourites' tag ahead of their opener against hosts Slovenia, who "can hardly wait", and Belgium are in dreamland as they meet Poland.

Convening in the Hotel Habakuk in Maribor, the 2012 European Capital of Culture, the four UEFA European Under-17 Championship Group B coaches painted very different pictures at Thursday's pre-tournament press conference.

Hemmed in by rolling landscape and mountainous surround, the setting was archetypal Slovenia, "a beautiful country" according to Netherlands coach Albert Stuivenberg. The Dutch trainer, though, played a far straighter bat to suggestions his team, the holders, are favourites to retain the trophy. Instead, Stuivenberg, speaking in the Pohorje foothills, was keen to play down expectations ahead of Friday's opening encounter against the hosts.

"When you are the holders, it doesn't say anything about this year," said the coach, without the suspended Tonny Trindade de Vilhena on Friday. "It's a totally different competition, new players and new opponents. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and attacking play Slovenia showed on the videos. It's a very important first step but we believe we are ready. However, we have to show it not with words but on the pitch."

While the Oranje have the added burden of being defending champions, Slovenia must deal with the pressure that comes hand in hand with being hosts. Coach Miloš Kostic, however, can only see the positives. "The guys are ready to play in front of a full stadium and I think the media pressure will only motivate them rather than making them nervous," he said. "The Netherlands play very attacking football. They have great individuals and like to play down the wings. We have analysed them but you cannot predict anything in football.

"We have had more time to prepare because we did not have to qualify. However, that is also tricky because the others have six games when the team can grow. We joined together for 14 days after the draw and I believe the players are well prepared to show off their skills. They can hardly wait for the tournament."

While Kostic admits "reaching the semi-finals would be fantastic", Belgium counterpart Patrick Klinkenberg is allowing his players' ambitions to run wild as they prepare to meet Poland. "Our dream is to reach the final," he said. "We are in a difficult group with three very good teams, but in qualifying we played against Croatia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Wales. That is why we are optimistic. I think Netherlands are definitely favourites so hopefully we can try for second place."

Poland may have ended their elite round campaign with a perfect record, but Marcin Dorna is not placing undue importance on maintaining that sequence. "We are in a difficult group but it will be a great pleasure to play against these teams," he said. "It will be great for the players. For us it is fantastic to be playing in this tournament. We had a five-day preparation in Poland and five days here. We hope it will be enough for us."

Last updated: 04/05/12 0.40CET

http://www.uefa.com/under17/news/newsid=1792792.html#hosts+holders+dreamers+ready+group+b

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