While Klaas Jan Huntelaar and the forwards who fired the Netherlands to UEFA European Under-21 Championship glory took most of the plaudits, it is hard to ignore the contribution of the Dutch defence. uefa.com spoke to the four youngsters for their view.
Dwight Tiendalli, Ron Vlaar, Gijs Luirink and Urby Emanuelson came together as a back line for the final group game in Portugal and blended together superbly to snuff out Italy, France and Ukraine en route to the trophy. Aside from a tricky semi-final second half against the free-flowing French, who most agree were the strongest squad, the quartet kept two clean sheets and ultimately provided the platform for a 3-0 final success last Sunday.
Right-back Tiendalli was a key component in the reversal of fortunes after a disappointing draw and defeat in the Jong Oranje's first two group matches. Having sat out both with a right-leg injury, the FC Utrecht tyro brought an extra dimension with foraging runs and support play. "I came in for the third game and I think I went on to play well in the tournament," the 20-year-old said. "Everybody played for each other. Yes, Klaas Jan played well and scored two goals in the final, but it is a team game."
In the centre, Vlaar showed just why he is rated among Europe's top young defenders. He particularly lived up to his reputation in stopping Ukraine inspiration Artem Milevskiy in the final. The 21-year-old from Feyenoord said: "He is a very strong player, so tough to stop when he has the ball. There were some difficult moments, and we had a little bit of luck, but that is the luck of a winner." Vlaar claimed the achievement had not sunk in until he saw "the party in the dressing room".
Yet for all the celebrations, Vlaar confessed he was already thinking about pre-season training. "That's my job," he said. "I hope to keep on developing, play a lot and grow as a player. I want to get better every game." His centre-back colleague Luirink was, according to many, the biggest success story, not least with his ability to go into midfield to shore things up. That was particularly the case on Sunday, when Ukraine kept on pushing.
"I don't mind going into midfield," the FC Groningen player said. "I know what to do but in the end it was just a matter of holding on. You can't help with 80 or 85 minutes gone to start thinking you are champions. You begin to think of the cup and all the things that go with it, but you have to play the game first." Luirink, 22, acknowledged his side had looked anything but winners when losing 2-1 to Ukraine in their opener but explained "we kept growing stronger and stronger".
Emanuelson, in particular, summed up the Netherlands' evolution. Despite a long season with AFC Ajax, the 19-year-old left-back managed to turn in an impressive final performance. It was the first game in three where he was able to last 90 minutes and he dominated the left flank. "I did everything for my team and it was great for me to play the whole game. It had been a little tactic before for me to save some energy." That said, he was anticipating a few weeks' rest. "I deserve a holiday and I will go to a beautiful country and enjoy my vacation. I can sit back and be proud to be a European champion." He is not the only one.
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