Six matches each in two weeks after two qualifying tournaments over the last 18 months..thats almost 20 matches to get to the final of the UEFA u17s Tournament at Rotherham United's New York Stadium, just a five minute walk from Rotherham Central station.
In the 2nd qualification tournament the two teams played each other with Italy coming first and Netherlands second, above Turkey and Iceland. Of course we all know that the Dutch flag is red,white and blue and the Italian tricolour red,white and green. The Dutch play in orange after the House of Orange that rules the country while Italy plays in Azzuri blue. This is due to the country starting to play during the ruling House of Savoy. Their first match was 6-2 v France on May 15th 1910 in Milan. They they played in white jerseys and the players wore the shorts of their clubs. It was not until their third international that they wore those light blue jersey of today.NOW YOU KNOW !!
The Dutch won this tournament in 2011 and 2012. I was at the 1987 tournament in North Central France in the Centre-Val de Loire cities of Orleans and Tours which was then an 8 team u16 version. Italy beat The Soviet Union in the final but were disqualified due to fielding illegal players, and the title was vacated.
England were knocked out by the Dutch on pk's last Thursday in Chesterfield and we could have expected 10,000 plus to show up if The Three Lions were in the final, but we had to settle with 4,612 and a worldwide audience on TV including ESPN in USA. The total for the whole two weeks was about 57,000 with tickets from only £1.00 and many give aways to schools.
The first half was very even with each team going close once. WHAT A CHANGE after the first 40 minute half !! There were tired legs and these youngsters are by no means the finished article but they gave everything-and more, and it was fantastic entertainment. In the 45th minute Jurien Maduro of Ajax opened the scoring from close range but the 50 or so Azzuri fans next to my press box seats never gave up. They had sung the national anthem with glee and chanted Italia-Italia-Italia throughout.
Fifteen minutes later Samuele Ricci of Empoli equalised with a spectacular goal and we had GAME ON. In fact two minutes later his team were ahead through Alessio Riccardi of AS Roma. We were not finished yet as the Dutch levelled 2-2 10 minutes later through Brian Brobbey of Ajax who had only come on 3 minutes earlier.
So it was straight to a penalty kick shoot out - the third in a row for The Netherlands after beating the Irish and the English this way.. The Dutch scored their first and then Italy had their first two shots saved by Joey Koorevaar of Feyenoord. His club had 3 starters, the same as Ajax. It fizzled out 4-1 to the Dutch and they will hopefully defend their crown next year in The Republic of Ireland.
At the same time the 8 team UEFA u17 womens tournament was taking place in Southern Lithuania. Germany had demolished England 8-0 in one semi final and Spain beaten Finland 1-0 in the other. Here they had a third place match with Finland coming from behind to beat England 2-1 in Alytus while Spain defeated Germany in the final in Marijampoles.