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The Netherlands' failure to qualify for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Sweden two seasons ago was a big disappointment for a country used to success over recent years but has made them even more determined to secure their place at next summer’s finals in Denmark.
Winners of the competition in 2006 and 2007, the Dutch meet Ukraine at Rotterdam's Sparta Stadium in the first leg of their play-off on Saturday, a game that local favourite Kevin Strootman feels Jong Orange should be stamping their authority on. "We have to win these type of games. We also won against Spain at home during the qualification, so we should be able to win against Ukraine at home," he told UEFA.com.
A Sparta Rotterdam player since the age of six, Strootman is regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the Netherlands. The tough-tackling 20-year-old midfielder has been in fine form as Sparta bid for an immediate return to the Eredivisie following relegation last season, scoring twice in eight league appearances so far this campaign. This comes after a summer of speculation where he was linked with moves to a number of top clubs.
One of two Sparta players in the Under-21 squad to face Ukraine alongside striker Joshua John, Strootman is wary of the threat the Netherlands' opponents pose but is still in bullish mood: "I don't know their team very well. I know their first team have a lot of good players, but I don’t know the Ukraine youth team very well. But I think Holland are supposed to qualify for the European Championships.
"I think we've done well. We won every game, until the last game against Spain and a lot of our players didn't play in that game. Now it is important that we continue this form and qualify," said Strootman after a qualification campaign in which the Dutch finished two points ahead of a Spanish side they earned a 2-1 success against in their last game at the Sparta Stadium in November.
"It was a very good campaign," added Netherlands assistant coach Remy Reynierse. "We can be very satisfied up to now but it is very dangerous because in two matches you can be out of the competition. I think they have a very strong team. All of the teams that are participating now are strong teams. They played against France and Belgium and were undefeated, so they have a very strong team and we are preparing ourselves for the match."
Reynierse has been involved with the U21s since 2002 and will have fond memories of their last meeting with Ukraine – a 3-0 success in the 2006 final.
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