The Netherlands returned to the final of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for the second year running following a thrilling 13-12 victory on penalties against England after their semi-final had finished 1-1 after extra time.
In total 32 spot-kicks were needed to decide the tie which eventually went the way of the hosts and holders when, almost three hours after kick-off, local SC Heerenveen hero Gianni Zuiverloon fired the winning conversion low to the right of Scott Carson. Six players from each side were forced to take two penalties during an epic contest that set the record for most goals scored in a UEFA competition match as well as most in a shoot-out.
For Netherlands coach Foppe de Haan, it cancelled out bitter memories of losing 10-9 on spot-kicks to Nigeria in the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years ago, yet it was rough justice on an England team who had battled bravely throughout and played the additional half-hour with ten men after Nedum Onuoha had limped off injured. Maceo Rigters earlier saved the Jong Oranje with a thrilling overhead kick in the last minute to cancel out Leroy Lita's first-half strike for England, setting up a rousing finale and a final against Serbia in Groningen on Saturday.
England manager Stuart Pearce had welcomed back Ashley Young from suspension but otherwise kept the side that defeated Serbia in their final Group B game. De Haan had spoken of exploiting space between the England defence and midfield, but they made little headway through the middle as Nigel Reo-Coker and Mark Noble plugged the gap diligently. The Netherlands were finding more joy on the wings with Royston Drenthe and Daniël de Ridder increasingly influential.
Their shooting, though, was wayward and both Zuiverloon and De Ridder missed the target in quick succession when well placed. The Netherlands were assuming command and ought to have gone ahead on 24 minutes. Ryan Babel collected Rigters' flick only to shoot tamely at Carson with just the keeper to beat. England had few chances yet when one finally came their way on 39 minutes, they took it. Lita outmuscled Ron Vlaar to get to David Nugent's header and drove low via the hands of Boy Waterman for his third goal of the tournament.
Young's wing play had been England's most threatening outlet and he nearly burst through three minutes after the restart. Vlaar was booked for halting the forward's surge and from the free-kick, Lita crashed a shot off the post. Nonetheless, England soon closed ranks. Hedwiges Maduro's powerful attempt on 58 minutes was palmed away by Carson and only Steven Taylor's sprawling block kept out Rigters' effort on the rebound.
The Dutch were forcing the pace and the pressure was intense. Taylor somehow prevented Babel's low shot from deflecting in, then with five minutes to play Rigters blazed wide from the edge of the area. Home hopes appeared to have gone with that miss yet the Jong Oranje continued pushing forward and with a minute remaining, they drew level. With Taylor down injured in the area, Ryan Donk crossed for Rigters to acrobatically score his third goal of the championship with an overhead kick.
England had used all three substitutions so Taylor played on in extra time despite clearly feeling effects of his injury. He hobbled into midfield, with Anton Ferdinand, a second-half replacement, slotting into central defence. Worse followed when Onuoha went off with what looked like a groin problem leaving England down to ten men. The mini-break came as sweet relief to Pearce's tiring side although the Netherlands were soon back on the attack. An unmarked Tim Janssen headed over, Drenthe shot wide but England somehow hung on, only to suffer the heartache of the most painful shoot-out defeat.