The UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Slovenia ended in fitting fashion, with the Netherlands securing a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Germany in the final.
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The 2012 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final was a microcosm of the tournament as a whole in Slovenia: patient, assured football, defences on top, and last-gasp goals. A shock result, given that Germany were moments from victory, was also appropriate for a fortnight full of surprises.
Captain Leon Goretzka's header looked set to have given Germany a deserved win, but inspired by their own leader and talisman Nathan Ake, the Netherlands fought back, and a dramatic added-time equaliser from Elton Acolatse took the game to penalties. Nick Olij saved the crucial spot kick to become the hero for the Jong Oranje, securing their second successive U17 title.
The road to the final was not easy going for Albert Stuivenberg and his team, however. After an early 3-1 win against the hosts, the Netherlands struggled to get into their attacking stride and goalless draws with Belgium and Poland followed, though they ultimately topped Group B. Poland joined them in the last four.
Their semi-final defeat of Georgia was not as convincing as the 2-0 scoreline suggested, either. Their opponents – whose state president flew over to support the team, kitted out in a replica shirt – had a man sent off after 16 minutes, but defended stubbornly. The match was moments away from penalties when the Netherlands exploded into life and scored two late goals to ensure Stuivenberg reached his third showpiece in his six seasons as Netherlands coach.
Again his opponents were to be Germany. Stefan Böger's team went into the tournament on an incredible unbeaten run, and with the likes of Goretzka, Oliver Schnitzler, Pascal Itter and Max Meyer all impressing, they showed no intention of ending it in Slovenia. After a first-half scare on matchday one, they dominated Group A, following up a 1-0 win against Georgia by beating Iceland by the same scoreline.
They then overwhelmed France 3-0 in arguably the most exciting game of the tournament, eventual top scorer Meyer stealing the limelight. Joining them in the final four were surprise package Georgia, who drew with France and beat Iceland with a late strike to leapfrog Les Bleus and put a Georgian team into the semi-finals of a football tournament for the first time in the nation's history.
Germany reached the decider at the expense of Poland, playing some attractive attacking football to ease into a meeting with the Netherlands. The decider caught the imagination of the locals, as 11,674 fans packed the smart ŠRC Stožice – the third highest attendance in the history of this competition and the highest for a match not involving a host team. Although Germany seemed certain to avenge their 5-2 defeat by the Dutch in Serbia in 2011, lady luck left them at the last, and once again they were forced to watch the Netherlands celebrate.