Klaas Jan Huntelaar went into the 2006 UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals with expectation heaped upon his slight shoulders. After his ten goals in qualifying, plus an extraordinary 33 in the Eredivisie season for SC Heerenveen and then AFC Ajax, the Netherlands were looking to Huntelaar to fire them to glory in Portugal. If the first two games produced doubts, these were quickly erased in some style.
"We had a bad start," the striker conceded. "We lost the first match and drew the second. Looking back, though, you can see we grew into the tournament." And how. Foppe de Haan's team got the required victory to progress from the group stage at Italy's expense, before Huntelaar – who had scored in the earlier draw with Denmark – came to the fore. The willowy forward netted the goal of the tournament in the semi-final against France, brilliantly chipping keeper Steve Mandanda as the Dutch claimed a 3-2 extra-time victory.
He became his country's overall leading scorer at U21 level with that strike and added two more in the final, where the Jong Oranje breezed past Ukraine. For Huntelaar, the success was consolation for missing out on the FIFA World Cup squad. "That was a disappointment," he said. "I was desperate to go, but when it isn't possible, you have to move on. Once you get back on the pitch, you have your mind set on something else."
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