With senior Netherlands coach Marco van Basten looking on from the stands the hosts turned on the style to defeat Portugal 2-1 and become the first side to progress to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Drive and vigour
Van Basten would have liked what he saw as Foppe de Haan's Jong Oranje played with a drive and vigour missing from their victory against Israel four days earlier. Goals in each half from Ryan Babel, a penalty, and Maceo Rigters and another commanding performance from Royston Drenthe made sure of the points, though a near capacity crowd in the Euroborg were made to sweat for victory after Miguel Veloso pulled a goal back late on. While the Netherlands can now dream of the Olympics, Portugal must beat Israel on Saturday to have a chance of avoiding an early exit for the second year running.
It was safety first for Portugal coach José Couceiro who had clearly picked Drenthe out as the Dutch dangerman. He made three changes from the side that had drawn with Belgium, and two of the new faces, Amoreirinha and Ruben Amorim, came in on the right in a bid to contain the Feyenoord player. Drenthe, though, simply picked up from where he left off against Israel. Amoreirinha was booked for bringing him down in the fifth minute before Drenthe crossed to Ryan Donk who, just as Babel had done against Israel, contrived to shoot over when it looked easier to score.
Belgium's victory against Israel earlier in the evening had added to the pressure on Portugal who enjoyed plenty of possession without creating any end product. In contrast, the Netherlands attacked with purpose with Drenthe the driving force. On 27 minutes the 20-year-old blazed over after another exhilarating forward dash and it seemed a goal could not be long in coming.
It duly arrived six minutes later. Babel fed Rigters on the right and the striker was brought down by goalkeeper Paulo Ribeiro. Babel drilled in the spot-kick to bring the Netherlands their reward. The substitution of Boy Waterman, who was suffering from a back injury, for Kenneth Vermeer, the Netherlands goalkeeper when they won this competition last year, briefly slowed Dutch momentum, but De Haan's side were soon back in full flow. Otman Bakkal slipped the ball to Rigters who shot against the post two minutes before the break.
Bakkal had replaced the injured Ismaïl Aissati, who will play no further part in the competition because of a torn meniscus, but the PSV Eindhoven player's absence was not felt in the first half against a Portugal side that showed little urgency until after the break. Vermeer was soon forced into saves from Hugo Almeida and Veloso, but when Couceiro was sent to the stands for persistent complaining on 63 minutes it only served to rouse the home crowd.
Portugal were increasingly forcing the holders back and were unlucky not to draw level on 72 minutes. Semedo's shot deflected off Vlaar, but Vermeer showed great reflexes to save. Three minutes later the Netherlands appeared to make the game safe when Rigters turned in Drenthe's low cross. Veloso's superb free-kick with 13 minutes to play, however, set up a tense finale which brought plenty of drama but no further goals.