Netherlands captain Stijn Schaars is refusing to let himself dream about holding the UEFA European Under-21 Championship trophy in Porto tonight.
Stijn Schaars is refusing to let himself dream about lifting the UEFA European Under-21 Championship trophy tonight.
"It would be great but I just can't let myself think about it," the Jong Oranje captain, who has been likened to national-team midfield mainstay Phillip Cocu, told uefa.com ahead of the showpiece against Ukraine at the Estádio do Bessa Século XXI. "If I do think about it, I can't stop smiling. First we have to play for 90 minutes, or 120, or more and then I hope we can beat them. This is the biggest match of my career.
"It is everything to me. I live for football and it would be fantastic if we could win the European Championship and I am captain. You maybe get one or two chances in your career to win such a trophy. Now we have to do it, to finish the job. We really want to take the cup back to Holland. We are confident. We beat Italy and France, so why can't we do it?"
Few would have expected Schaars to be leading his side out in the final when the Netherlands were defeated 2-1 by their fellow finalists in the opening Group B match. However, the 1-0 win against Italy and 3-2 semi-final victory against France, with Schaars providing the winning goal for Nicky Hofs with a perfect pass, have turned things around. The No6 was one of his team's outstanding performers in that contest, showing a sweet left foot that he used as much in defence as in attack.
"I am very proud to be captain of this team," Schaars said, well aware much of the Netherlands will be with him in Porto when he shakes hands with opposing captain Olexandr Yatsenko ahead of the final act of a thrilling tournament in Portugal. A third of the overall Dutch television audience on Thursday night watched their young stars in action, something that has not escaped the attention. "It is great that people at home are following so closely," said Schaars, who has been getting personal backing from his holidaying parents in Portugal.
Above all else, though, it is the players themselves who have propelled the Netherlands cause forward, especially after such a disappointing start to these finals. "The belief in each other is there, we fight for each other," said the AZ Alkmaar regular. "We played a good match against Italy and we took confidence from that for France. When they made it 2-2 we pulled together and said we have to fight for every metre, which we did."