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The teams and supporters might have been drenched by the torrential rain that had poured down on Groningen for much of the evening, but nothing could dampen the spirits of Netherlands coach Foppe de Haan after his side claimed the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for the second year in succession with victory against Serbia.
De Haan masterminded a 4-1 triumph with Otman Bakkal, Ryan Babel, Maceo Rigters and Luigi Bruins finding the net as the Netherlands ran out winners by a three-goal margin again, having overcome Ukraine 3-0 in Portugal a year ago, but for the coach there was no doubt which triumph was sweeter. "I'm very glad because when you win this twice, year after year, that's remarkable," he said. "I'm proud of the guys, they did a good job, worked hard and were a team. We were a new team, a young team, and that made it hard but I'm very happy." When asked why he celebrated so extravagantly at the final whistle, De Haan replied: "My wife, children and grandchildren were here and they had to see I was enjoying myself! Our achievement is bigger than last year because then I think we had more quality then."
Planning pays off
For the 63-year-old - who joked, when asked how long he intended to continue after his contract expires next year, "My wife says 'You mustn't stop because then you die'" - the victory is proof of the healthy state of age-group football in the Netherlands. "Winning this tournament twice in a row is not a coincidence, it's the consequence of a good plan. If you win it once you can say you had a good generation but we've won it twice in a row with two different teams and that's the result of what we've been doing. If you look at the players we were without we could have had an ever better team this year. At a tournament like this you learn more in a few weeks than you do in a year at your club. The senior team is also very young, so the future is quite bright."
Serbia coach Miroslav Djukić was gracious in defeat, opening his own press conference by warmly congratulating the new champions, although he also had praise for his own charges. "My players have played very well and they’ve done brilliantly in these final," he said, although he believed his side were unable to recover from starting the match on the back foot. "It was a very, very hard match and we expected that but perhaps the start was too difficult for us. With some help from the tribunes, they played much better than us in the first ten minutes and we were afraid."
'Nothing we could do'
Serbia recovered from that slow start to start the second period the better, although their failure to convert a number of openings, and the dismissal of left-back Aleksandar Kolarov just past the hour, effectively ended their hopes despite a late consolation from substitute Dragan Mrdja. "We had some chances after the first goal but missed them and everything was finished after the second," Djukić acknowledged. "We then had a player sent off and there was nothing more we could do."
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