Preparing for his final tournament debut, Netherlands coach Maarten Stekelenburg spoke to UEFA.com ahead of next month's UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta.
Stekelenburg (not to be confused with the goalkeeper of the same name) assumed the reins last year after previous incumbent Albert Stuivenberg – who guided the Jong Oranje to successive U17 titles in 2011 and 2012 – left for the U21s post. Stekenlenburg has produced immediate results, guiding his team to the Malta finals, where they will take on England, the hosts and Turkey in Group A from 9 May.
UEFA.com: After missing out on the finals last year, the Netherlands are back on the biggest stage. How proud does that make you?
Maarten Stekelenburg: I am very proud of this group of lads for qualifying for the final tournament, though I can't really judge how they compare to the group that did not make it last year. I can only say they have done really done well to qualify.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your group stage opponents?
Stekelenburg: There are only eight teams in the finals, which means every nation has come through a tough qualifying campaign, with Malta the only exception. Every team is therefore sure to be of a certain quality as they have managed to get through two qualifying groups. I expect us to face tough opponents.
UEFA.com: Who do you consider favourites to win the trophy?
Stekelenburg: I believe that of the eight nations, six have won it in the past  years, so it will be very tough. Scotland have never won it but I have been told they have a very strong group now. Many teams will fancy their chances coming into the tournament.
UEFA.com: What is your goal?
Stekelenburg: I think we have to reach the semi-finals at least. From there, you will need a bit of luck. So, our aim will be to get through the group and then take it one game at a time.
UEFA.com: The Netherlands won the title in 2011 and 2012 – does that create extra pressure?
Stekelenburg: It does not create extra pressure, but rather gives us extra confidence.
UEFA.com: How important is it for young players to be involved in a final tournament at this age?
Stekelenburg: I think it's essential for the development of young players. People sometimes underestimate the importance of playing under pressure in top matches. That applies to a national level as well. You see some countries where that is well arranged, and you can see that they have a good structure internationally. The top international talents need to play in top international matches – this is crucial.
UEFA.com: Have you asked your predecessor for any advice?
Stekelenburg: At the [Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB)] I share an office with Albert Stuivenberg, who won two European Championships. Even at the start of the season I asked him if there was anything in particular I should take into account. I already have a lot of experience as a youth coach at Ajax, so I know what to expect. I think we are well prepared.
UEFA.com: What is your team's main strength?
Stekelenburg: Being a real team, as we have shown in qualifying. We grew into the campaign and improved a little bit at a time. That is why I have high expectations for our performance at the final tournament.
UEFA.com: How can you still improve?
Stekelenburg: I have always told the boys that when we are not playing as well as our opponents – there are times when this happens in every match – we sometimes concede goals too easily.
When we are stable, we are good; when we make mistakes and don't defend well, we get into trouble. We will work on that.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.