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Twelve months after winning the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for the first time, the Netherlands retained the trophy in style with a 4-1 win against Serbia in Groningen.
Cries of "Foppe de Haan" rang round the Euroborg after goals from Otman Bakkal, Ryan Babel, Maceo Rigters and Luigi Bruins ensured victory, though an entertaining game was only made safe after Aleksandar Kolarov had been dismissed for a second bookable offence two minutes past the hour. The scoreline was tough on Serbia, who impressed throughout the competition less than a year after being granted full UEFA membership. But this was the Netherlands' night, and in particular that of De Haan. Before he was appointed coach in 2004 the Netherlands had never won a UEFA competition at youth or U21 level. Now winning has become a habit.
Sense of occasion
After a fortnight of heavy rain, the fiercest downpour was fittingly saved for the final and the ball skimmed quickly off the surface as lightning flashed overhead. A sizeable and vocal Serbian contingent for once gave the home support some competition and the match a sense of occasion an enjoyable tournament merited. De Haan has rebuilt his side from scratch since winning the tournament last year and none of the eleven who started here had begun last year's final in Porto.
The irrepressible Royston Drenthe has become the symbol of this new team and he was soon into the thick of the action. On nine minutes he was booked for a late challenge on Antonio Rukavina, then turned Rigters' cross over the bar. The Netherlands were beginning to edge possession and they went ahead on 17 minutes. Daniël de Ridder, the sole survivor from the side that beat Ukraine in the final last year when he was a substitute, scooped a high ball into Bakkal who held off Rukavina to shoot beyond Damir Kahriman.
Serbia hit back with Dušan Basta and Boško Janković creating chances from both wings, but the Netherlands had the clearer openings. On 22 minutes Bakkal wriggled free and crossed to De Ridder who shot over with the goal gaping. FC Groningen defender Arnold Kruiswijk, at his home ground, made light of the absence of injured captain Ron Vlaar as the Netherlands approached half-time in command. Their good work, though, was nearly undone on 35 minutes when Boy Waterman came for and missed Kolarov's right-wing free-kick. Dutch anxiety gave way to relief as the ball bounced back off the post to safety.
Seconds after the restart Waterman made amends. Basta pounced on hesitancy from Erik Pieters and released a quick shot that the sprawling goalkeeper palmed away. Serbia had stepped up a gear and suddenly the Netherlands did not look so assured. De Haan was quickly off the bench, umbrella in hand, to voice his displeasure and his anger rose soon after when De Ridder's loose pass let in Kolarov. He pulled the ball back for Janković who could only shoot tamely at Waterman. Serbia were made to pay for that miss on the hour, De Ridder crossing low into the centre where Babel swept into the net, and their problems were compounded two minutes later when Kolorav was shown a second yellow card for a late challenge on Babel.
Worse was to come, Rigters rounding Kahriman to score his fourth goal of the competition on 67 minutes. It equalled Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s mark last year and ensured he finished as the tournament's leading scorer. Kahriman restored some pride for Serbia when he kept out Babel's 71st-minute penalty and Dragan Mrdja raised spirits further when he headed in with eleven minutes to play. It was nowhere near enough to temper Dutch delight, however, which increased still further when substitute Bruins added the fourth late on.
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