By Paul Saffer in Tirrenia
In tournaments such as the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, one or two outstanding teams usually emerge, and usually succeed - such as last year's eventual finalists France and Spain.
This time around in Italy, it was initially less clear. England and Switzerland set the early pace in their respective groups, but soon faded. Italy and Croatia were the group winners, but the hosts scored just two goals in their first three games, while the Croatians conceded six. However, already the team that finished second to Italy in Group A were catching a lot of attention.
Turkey's campaign had started with a 1-0 loss to Italy, as they failed to turn their dominance into goals. After a 3-2 win versus England, that was never a problem, and then followed a 5-1 victory against Belarus, 3-1 semi-final defeat of Croatia and in the final the Netherlands were overcome 2-0.
Avci said after the final: "Since I took over in October, we have played 16 games, winning 12, drawing three and losing just one. That built our confidence, and made us believe we could win every match." But it was not just the fact of those wins, but the manner.
The coach was able to field the same starting lineup for all four triumphs, showcasing his awesome collection of attacking talent. That strikeforce was led by Tevfik Köse, who revived Turkey's campaign with two early goals against England, which combined with his hat-trick against Belarus and clincher in the final left him as tournament leading scorer.
Köse was ably supported by the likes of Deniz Yilmaz, Özgürcan Özcan and Caner Erkin, but perhaps the real star of the team, and the finals, was Nuri Sahin. Not only was Nuri the fulcrum of the side in midfield, providing killer passes such as the one from which Yilmaz opened the scoring against the Netherlands, but he struck the late winner against England that kept their bid afloat.
However, the victors did not have a monopoly of ability. The Dutch possessed their own set of promising prospects in Diego Biseswar, Vurnon Anita, Jeffrey Sarpong, John Goossens and Melvin Zaalman, and tall goalkeeper Tim Krul has more in common with Edwin van der Sar than an uncanny physical resemblance.
They also showed they had an immense fighting spirit in their comebacks in qualifying and then again here against Croatia and Israel, not to mention beating the hosts in semi-final extra time.
Thanks to their thrilling third-place play-off win against Croatia, Italy secured a berth in the FIFA U-17 World Championship alongside the two finalists, and the hosts had a sturdy defence including two excellent full-backs, a talented midfield and a fine forward pair in Andrea Russotto and Salvatore Foti. Only the pressure of expectation and a desire to always do the spectacular perhaps held them back from becoming their third consecutive hosts to win this tournament.
Croatia themselves have much to be happy about, such as the performance of strikers Nikola Kalinic and Damir Vidovic and their feats in beating Israel 4-2 and Switzerland 5-2 - both games they trailed 1-0 at half-time. Even the four sides eliminated in the group stage, England, Switzerland, Belarus and Israel, possessed individuals clearly marked out for greater things.
Indeed this competition is partly about the development of talent and the gaining of experience. But it is also about winning a trophy. And it is clear that Turkey are deserving of the title European U17 champions.
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