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2006 Under-21 EURO: Huntelaar thrives in Dutch triumph

The Netherlands won the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for the first time in 2006.

The Netherlands players rejoice after winning the 2006 final
The Netherlands players rejoice after winning the 2006 final ©Getty Images

Netherlands 3-0 Ukraine
(Huntelaar 11 43, Hofs 90)
Bessa XXI, Porto

The Netherlands were crowned European Under-21 champions in Portugal as Foppe de Haan's vibrant side claimed the trophy for the first time. The Jong Oranje started and finished their campaign against Ukraine, going out on a high with a 3-0 win in the final after surprisingly losing their opening game to Olexiy Mykhaylychenko's well-drilled team.

In many respects it was a tournament of upsets. Hosts Portugal, holders Italy and fancied Germany were all knocked out at the group stage, while Ukraine thrived in their first appearance at this level. They showed no signs of inexperience as they outran and outmanoeuvred the Dutch in their Group B curtain-raiser in Agueda. Artem Milevskiy's cheeky chipped penalty set Ukraine on their way to a 2-1 victory, and though they lost their next match 1-0 to Italy, another Milevskiy goal, the winner against Denmark, sealed their place in the semi-finals as group leaders.

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While the stylish Milevskiy was the focal point of Ukraine's attack, the rugged Dmytro Chygrynskiy was the rock in defence, and he excelled in the semi against Serbia and Montenegro, whose presence in the last four was even more surprising. Dragomir Okuka's side had seemingly been eliminated after succumbing 2-0 to France in their final Group A fixture.

As they trudged off the pitch in Braga, though, news came through of a late winner for Portugal against Germany, which secured Serbo-Montenegrin progress at Germany's expense. "God gave us a second chance," goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković told uefa.com. But Serbia and Montenegro were unable to take it. A scoreless 90 minutes in the semi-final in Aveiro heralded extra time then penalties, and when Milan Purović missed his spot-kick, Ukraine were through.


There was drama too in the other last-four encounter, as the Netherlands held on for a thrilling extra-time triumph against favourites France. After losing to Ukraine, De Haan's team had looked listless in a 1-1 draw with Denmark, yet stunned Italy with a 1-0 victory in their concluding Group B game. Substitute Daniël de Ridder scored with his first touch to earn second spot behind the Ukrainians, and the Jong Oranje revival continued three days later against France.

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René Girard's side had stormed through Group A without conceding a goal in wins against Portugal, Germany and Serbia and Montenegro, but they soon fell behind to Nicky Hofs's strike in Braga. Klaas Jan Huntelaar underlined his credentials with a beautiful chip to double the Dutch advantage, before France's second-half fightback forced extra time. The Netherlands still had something in reserve, however, Hofs registering again with 13 minutes remaining to clinch a 3-2 success.

So to Porto for the final at Boavista FC's Estádio do Bessa Século XXI, where Huntelaar confirmed himself as the star of the tournament with the Netherlands' opening two goals. If, first time around against Ukraine, the Dutch had been muscled off the ball, here they passed it around slickly. Hofs added a third deep into stoppage time, giving the scoreline a sheen that did scant justice to Ukraine who pressed valiantly in the second half. The Jong Oranje's victory, though, was deserved. "It's been a great experience," Huntelaar said. "We've grown as a team during the tournament after making a bad start. It's a great feeling."