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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports


Young Dutch winners offer glimpse of future

Posted: 17 May 2011 06:41 PM PDT

Ajax Amsterdam's Siem de Jong (centre) and fellow players celebrate their victory over FC Twente after their Dutch Championship final soccer match at the Amsterdam Arena May 15, 2011. — Reuters pic

BELGRADE, May 18 — Known for a free-flowing production line of talent, the Netherlands showed off the potential national heroes of the future when they won their first under-17 European Championship title at the weekend.

They beat Germany 5-2 Sunday in the highest-scoring final at this level, having kept six clean sheets in a row to get there.

The victory was just reward for mature performances more akin to an under-21 side or even a senior team, with the opposition largely powerless against the trademark total football the Dutch established to great effect in the 1970s.

Whether the group of outstanding youngsters will translate their talent into glittering careers enjoyed by predecessors such as Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit depends on how hard they work in the coming years, and on a modicum of luck.

"The objective of this tournament is to develop the players and steer them in the right direction," Dutch coach Albert Stuivenberg said before the two-week event in Serbia kicked off.

"All the players in my squad have great potential but it's difficult to say at this point in time how many of them will become top players at senior level or if any of them will.

"This is the first step and the first step is always the most important, while turning all that talent into a successful career requires a bit of luck as well."

After the wild celebrations that followed the title win, when his players hoisted him aloft, Stuivenberg added: "They have improved this season in understanding what it takes to win games."

Having cruised through their group after beating Germany 2-0 in the opening match, the Dutch knocked out last year's champions England 1-0 in the last four before defeating Germany again in the final, an act of revenge for a 2-1 loss to them in the 2009 final.

WORTHY SUCCESSORS

If their performances in the event featuring Europe's top eight teams is any guide, several players in the Dutch team could be worthy successors to the senior team which reached the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

Some nations who did well in the annual under-17 tournament in the past, notably former champions Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and Russia, have not excelled at senior level for one reason or another.

Spain, however, twice winners and last year's finalists, produced a plethora of brilliant players such as Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, all of whom played a key role in last year's triumph at the World Cup.

Fernando Torres, who was instrumental in Spain's conquest of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, is another player who came through the ranks and if the Dutch can emulate that kind of development they have a lot to look forward to.

Arsenal prospect Kyle Ebecilio and striker Trindade de Vilhena finished among the tournament's joint top scorers with three goals each, while crafty winger Memphis Depay showed dazzling speed and ball control on both flanks.

Playmaker Anass Achahbar was at the heart of incessant raids through the middle which deprived most rivals of any noteworthy possession of the ball, while neat team moves ripped Germany to shreds when they took risks.

"We always knew they were really strong there but congratulations to Holland because they were the best team and deserved their title," Germany coach Steffen Freund said, summing up the gulf in class between the Dutch and the rest of the field.

"These games have been a fantastic experience for my team. The Xavis and Iniestas have played in these games and that's why this tournament is really important."

ENGLAND HOPE

England reached the finals with a crunch 2-1 win over Spain in the qualifiers and, after a patchy start in the group stage, they crushed hosts Serbia 3-0 to advance into the semi-finals.

Everton prospect Hallam Hope, also among the tournament's top scorers with three goals along with Germany's Samed Yesil, scored a superb brace in that match and showed glimpses of talent to emulate his childhood idol.

"I've always looked up to Wayne Rooney because he is a fantastic player and I hope that one day I can do the things he does at senior level," Hope told Reuters after sealing England's win over Serbia with a cracker from 25 metres.

Although he was more cautious about Hope's prospects, England manager John Peacock praised the young striker's work rate and commitment.

"He has a long way to go before he develops into a top quality striker at senior level; he is a very young player but he is prepared to learn and listen," Peacock said.

"The boy works tirelessly for the team, his endeavour, ball skills and finishing are phenomenal so we are really delighted to have him."

Another outstanding player was Czech keeper Lukas Zima, who saved two penalties against the Germans and a barrage of sitters in their three group matches, securing his country's berth in next month's under-17 World Cup in Mexico.

"He's been one of the most brilliant players of the tournament," former international referee Hugh Dallas told Reuters after Zima kept the Dutch at bay in a 0-0 draw which saw the Czechs through.

"He has every chance of becoming a world-class goalkeeper if he keeps developing at this rate," said Dallas, who was the tournament's refereeing supervisor.

"The event has been a real credit to the under-17 European Championship and it will be a fantastic experience for these young players, some of whom have the potential to take centre stage at senior level in the upcoming years." — Reuters 

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Djokovic run beats my ‘84 streak, says McEnroe

Posted: 17 May 2011 04:52 PM PDT

John McEnroe celebrates winning a point against Andre Agassi during their exhibition tennis match at the "Stars Under the Stars" event benefiting the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education leading up to the LA Tennis Open tournament in Los Angeles, California, July 24, 2010. — Reuters pic

LONDON, May 18 — Novak Djokovic's 37-match winning streak since the start of the year is already more impressive than the record 42 consecutive wins posted by John McEnroe in 1984, the American said yesterday.

World number two Djokovic has enjoyed complete domination so far this year by winning seven titles, including the Australian Open, four Masters Series events and ending world number one Rafa Nadal's supremacy on clay.

Should the Serbian reach the final of next week's French Open, he will edge ahead of McEnroe's 1984 streak, which was ended in the final at Roland Garros by arch rival Ivan Lendl.

"For me personally it brings back memories of '84," former world number one and seven-times grand slam champion McEnroe told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday.

"I'm quite excited at the timing of this because he could break my record at the French Open. I've followed his progress and to put it mildly it's been quite amazing to see how much confidence he is playing with.

"Records are made to be broken but at the same time now there is more competition, more athleticism, and deeper fields and more depth in the sport so his record is even more impressive than mine.

"Also in '84 the Aussie Open was played at the end of the year so I hadn't played a major when I put that run together. My first major was the French where the streak was broken.

"It's impressive given he came in number three and to dominate Federer and Nadal the way he has, to see what he has done, it's a little surprising."

Djokovic outclasssed Nadal for the second week in succession to win the Rome Masters on Sunday, having also beaten the Spanish claycourt king in Madrid the week before.

The Serb, whose total streak is 39 when taking into account his two wins in the Davis Cup final at the end of 2010, has also beaten former dominant force Roger Federer three times already this year and stands on the brink of taking over as the world number one from Nadal.

However, McEnroe, who is playing on the Champions Tour which culminates in the Aegon Masters at London's Royal Albert Hall later this year, has a word of warning for Djokovic.

"Rafa is certainly tougher to beat in a best of five match," the American great said. "Going back to '84, I beat Lendl twice on clay going into the French then got up two sets and lost in five. Certainly Novak has to be careful because Nadal fights right to the end." — Reuters 

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