Coach Foppe de Haan laughed loudest after finally outwitting master tactician Olexiy Mykhaylychenko and leading the Jong Oranje to the European title.
Rapper Boss AC provided the pre-match entertainment but there were only two chiefs on show in Porto tonight: the coaches of UEFA European Under-21 Championship finalists Ukraine and the Netherlands.
In the blue-and-yellow corner, Olexiy Mykhaylychenko, a former USSR international with experience of Italian and Scottish football who took the U21 helm following a spell in charge of Ukrainian giants FC Dynamo Kyiv. Overseeing the Jong Oranje, the schoolmasterly Foppe de Haan, whose more modest playing career had preceded a rise up the Dutch coaching ladder culminating in a 12-year reign at Eredivisie side SC Heereveen. Both had guided their teams through qualifying and were hoping to cap two seasons' toil with a trophy.
Mykhaylychenko, the younger man at 43, had played under that grand master of Ukrainian football, Valeriy Lobanovskiy. At his pre-match press briefing, he admitted to being influenced by the late Lobanovskiy, but insisted the canny approach that had taken Ukraine to their first international final was his own. "I learned about tactics and patterns of play from Lobanovskiy, but this team plays my football." According to defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, that style is essentially pragmatic. "It is difficult to define how we play, because we try to play according to how the game is going," Chygrynskiy said to uefa.com. "The most important thing is the result."
Mykhaylychenko had got the better of his 62-year-old counterpart, De Haan, in the sides' opening encounter, a 2-1 Group B win for tournament debutants Ukraine. "There was too much running and long balls – that's not how we play football," the Dutchman said of that defeat. "We have to have good possession and get the ball to the strikers from a shorter distance." By bypassing midfield, Ukraine had undermined the Netherlands' compact passing game. "Tactically, the Dutch are very interesting," former German international Matthias Sammer told uefa.com. "They play halfway up the pitch in an area 30 metres long and 30 metres wide. They pay a lot of attention to organisation, good defending and they have three attackers who drop into midfield."
Tonight the De Haan template entailed neat triangles that enticed Netherlands full-backs upfield and relied on fluid movement from the forwards – Romeo Castelen, Nicky Hofs and Klaas Jan Huntelaar – who often interchanged with midfielders Ismaïl Aissati, Demy de Zeeuw and Nicky Hofs. Ironically, Huntelaar's first goal owed to two touches only, Hofs's searching pass finding the centre-forward who finished clinically. For the second, Olexandr Yatsenko fingered the ball away from Huntelaar's head following Aissati's dart to the right and inviting cross. The penalty conceded, Huntelaar scored again.
By contrast, Ukraine were happy to sit deep, their wide midfielders Taras Mikhalik and Olexiy Godin falling back to support the full-backs, while central midfielders Yevgen Cheberyachko and Olexandr Maksymov chased and harried. Whenever Artem Milevskiy sparked, though, there was danger. Thirty first-half seconds attested to that: one long pass released Grigoriy Yarmash, whose cross Milevskiy touched into Mikhalik's feet, with the latter's one-on-one shot being saved.
Change for the better
Mykhaylychenko's clever thinking had prompted the withdrawal of man-of-the-match goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov for deputy Olexandr Rybka seconds before the victorious semi-final penalty shoot-out against Serbia and Montenegro. Here, his interval introduction of attack-minded midfielder Olexandr Aliyev and forward Maxym Feschuk failed initially to plant similar seeds of doubt in the opposition. But roared on by a Ukrainian majority in the 22,146 crowd at Boavista FC's stadium, Cheberyachko twice, Mikhalik and Aliyev twice – one from a brilliantly-worked corner – spurned chances. With more assistance for Milevskiy, Ukraine threatened a revival. Olexandr Romanchuk's late dismissal, followed by Hofs's stoppage-time strike, removed any such menace however, leaving De Haan as boss in this battle of the coaches.