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Stekelenburg at ease with Dutch expectations

Successor to the man who won the Netherlands successive U17 titles in 2011, 2012, Maarten Stekelenburg says recent glories will give "extra confidence" at next month's finals.

Netherlands U17 coach Maarten Stekelenburg and assistant Mark van Bommel
Netherlands U17 coach Maarten Stekelenburg and assistant Mark van Bommel ©UEFA.com

Preparing for his final tournament debut, Netherlands coach Maarten Stekelenburg spoke to UEFA.com ahead of next month's UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta.

Stekelenburg (not to be confused with the goalkeeper of the same name) assumed the reins last year after previous incumbent Albert Stuivenberg – who guided the Jong Oranje to successive U17 titles in 2011 and 2012 – left for the U21s post. Stekenlenburg has produced immediate results, guiding his team to the Malta finals, where they will take on England, the hosts and Turkey in Group A from 9 May.

UEFA.com: After missing out on the finals last year, the Netherlands are back on the biggest stage. How proud does that make you?

Maarten Stekelenburg: I am very proud of this group of lads for qualifying for the final tournament, though I can't really judge how they compare to the group that did not make it last year. I can only say they have done really done well to qualify.

UEFA.com: What do you think of your group stage opponents?

Stekelenburg: There are only eight teams in the finals, which means every nation has come through a tough qualifying campaign, with Malta the only exception. Every team is therefore sure to be of a certain quality as they have managed to get through two qualifying groups. I expect us to face tough opponents.

UEFA.com: Who do you consider favourites to win the trophy?

Stekelenburg: I believe that of the eight nations, six have won it in the past [12] years, so it will be very tough. Scotland have never won it but I have been told they have a very strong group now. Many teams will fancy their chances coming into the tournament.

UEFA.com: What is your goal?

Stekelenburg: I think we have to reach the semi-finals at least. From there, you will need a bit of luck. So, our aim will be to get through the group and then take it one game at a time.

UEFA.com: The Netherlands won the title in 2011 and 2012 – does that create extra pressure?

Stekelenburg: It does not create extra pressure, but rather gives us extra confidence.

UEFA.com: How important is it for young players to be involved in a final tournament at this age?

Stekelenburg: I think it's essential for the development of young players. People sometimes underestimate the importance of playing under pressure in top matches. That applies to a national level as well. You see some countries where that is well arranged, and you can see that they have a good structure internationally. The top international talents need to play in top international matches – this is crucial.

Albert Stuivenberg in 2011
Albert Stuivenberg in 2011©Sportsfile

UEFA.com: Have you asked your predecessor for any advice?

Stekelenburg: At the [Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB)] I share an office with Albert Stuivenberg, who won two European Championships. Even at the start of the season I asked him if there was anything in particular I should take into account. I already have a lot of experience as a youth coach at Ajax, so I know what to expect. I think we are well prepared.

UEFA.com: What is your team's main strength?

Stekelenburg: Being a real team, as we have shown in qualifying. We grew into the campaign and improved a little bit at a time. That is why I have high expectations for our performance at the final tournament.

UEFA.com: How can you still improve?

Stekelenburg: I have always told the boys that when we are not playing as well as our opponents – there are times when this happens in every match – we sometimes concede goals too easily. When we are stable, we are good; when we make mistakes and don't defend well, we get into trouble. We will work on that.