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The Netherlands got the defence of their UEFA European Under-21 Championship title off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory against Israel.
Hedwiges Maduro tapped in the only goal on ten minutes as the hosts picked up from where they left off in Portugal 12 months ago. Captain Ron Vlaar and Ismaïl Aissati were the only survivors from the side that defeated Ukraine in the 2006 final in Porto, but Foppe de Haan's new-look team had no intention of letting the trophy slip from their grasp. Vlaar fired a free-kick over on two minutes before Ryan Babel shot narrowly wide. The Dutch did not have it all their own way though. The Jong Oranje had lost their opening game against Ukraine a year ago and suffered another early scare here, Eliran Danin crossing low to an unmarked Omer Peretz who, ghosting in from the right, shot wide from 12 metres.
Three minutes later the Netherlands went ahead, Royston Drenthe curling a free-kick to the far post where Maduro touched in. It was the ideal start for the hosts, but Israel responded well. Guy Levy's team had defeated France in the play-offs to qualify for the first time and with a coiterie of senior internationals in their ranks they soon recovered their composure. The lively Ben Sahar and Barak Itzhaki were initially a threat on the break, but as the half progressed Israel began increasingly to take the game to their opponents.
Chances were few although the Netherlands should have scored again eight minutes before the break. Israel goalkeeper Tom Al Madon missed Drenthe's cross which fell to Babel who somehow shot over from one metre. Dutch disappointment was compounded when Aissati hobbled off with what looked like a recurrence of his long-term knee problem. Things might have got worse still for De Haan, back at the club where he made his name as a coach, a minute after the restart when Sahar pounced on a slip by Drenthe, but the Chelsea FC starlet shot straight at Boy Waterman. For the Netherlands, Otman Bakkal, Aissati's replacement, almost forced a breakthrough on 53 minutes when he teed up Haris Medunjanin who shot wide. Moments later Babel found Maduro in space but his drive was well held by Al Madon.
The Dutch were back on top but had little to show for their possession. Babel shot tamely at Al Madon and Bakkal glanced a header wide and there remained the suspicion that Israel could spoil the party until the hosts stepped up a gear in the final ten minutes. Drenthe almost made sure of the result with a pair of rasping drives in quick succession and substitute Daniël de Ridder also drew a smart save from Al Madon. One goal, though, proved enough. The Netherlands continue their Group A campaign against Portugal on Tuesday when Israel play Belgium.
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