Netherlands and England set for denouement
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
Maarten Stekelenburg will decide on Wednesday if the Netherlands need "extra pressure" ahead of their final against England, with John Peacock urging his side to "take ownership".
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After a blustery few days in Malta, the wind looks to be firmly in the sails of the Netherlands and England ahead of Wednesday's UEFA European Under-17 Championship final.
The rain and dank skies of Monday have given way to the more customary sunshine of Malta, with the teams, and the coaches, equally set fair for their denouement at the Ta' Qali National Stadium. England go into the game off the back of a clinical second-half display against Portugal in the semi-finals, with the Jong Oranje in similarly buoyant mood having put five past Scotland in their last-four encounter, ensuring a perfect four wins from four at the finals.
"In qualification, and here, we haven't lost one game," said coach Maarten Stekelenburg. "That says something about the character in this team." Peacock, preparing for his third showpiece at this level, was just as quick to flag up the more cerebral qualities of his young charges. "They're very coachable, there is a very close group dynamic and a thirst for knowledge," he said. "It's great to see a sense of innocence about them still – a real desire to try and succeed.
"It's about them taking some ownership, making decisions and talking about the game and not being coach-dominated all the time." Peacock, who continues to sweat on the fitness of Adam Armstrong – this campaign's overall leading scorer with nine goals, qualifying included – because of an ankle injury sustained on Sunday, feels there are similarities between this squad and the one that lifted the trophy in 2010.
The Dutch were champions themselves in 2011 and 2012 and their coach has great confidence that this particular collection of players has what it takes to hit the right note come kick-off. "It is a final and I will look to the players on matchday to see if I need to take some pressure away or I have to put some extra pressure on," added the former AFC Ajax head of youth development.
"You can make 100 plans but when you don't have good players, no plan will work – the main thing is the quality of the players on the pitch. Every person is learning every day, including me. I'm a coach that likes to work with a team on a daily basis. Sometimes with national teams that is difficult because you don't have them too often together, so I've enjoyed having them for a longer period to add things and fine-tune."
Both parties agreed that the Netherlands' 2-0 group stage victory against a much-changed England lineup would have little bearing on this decider. Though Young Lions captain Ryan Ledson described this as "the biggest game of our lives – it would be weird if we weren't nervous", his manager emphasised the need to stay calm.
Peacock, at his eighth final tournament, added: "You can't load the pressure on, in my experience – you have to let them deal with it and cope with it and have their own time to themselves. They're ready to go and I just think it's about us making sure we're nice and relaxed and steady."
So to the final analysis, team meetings and preparations, with each coach seeking an edge, a previously undiscovered weakness in the opposition. Has Peacock found any? "If I did, I'm not telling you!" Stekelenburg, likewise, demanded we remain patient: "You'll just have to watch the game." The waiting is nearly over.