Oranje Under-17 didn’t manage to win the world title last week. The Dutch talents were on a mission to win it, but ended up as fourth, in Brazil. They look back on a hectic tournament, with deep troughs and high peaks. “We need to learn from this!”.
The tournament ended last Thursday, when Youri Regeer misses the deciding penalty in the semis vs Mexico. The benjamin of the squad fell to the ground, with his shirt over his head to mask his tears, while the Mexicans danced on his grave. The Ajax player – barely 16 years old – is confronted with the harsh laws of top sports. Regeer is unconsolable and has to be brought off the pitch by assistant coach Henk Brugge. And the same applies to his team mates. After their escape from the group, the feeling existed that Oranje was invincible: who is going to stop us now?
And yes, against Mexico, Oranje was the better team and Regeer’s goal in the match was the logical result. But a free kick that shouldn’t have been awarded allowed the Mexicans to score and they did take the spot kicks better. A scenario no one took into account unfolded… And now, a feeling of emptiness. On the pitch, in the dressing room, the bus…the tears of this massive disappointment flow and it seems to go on forever.
Anass Salah-Eddine tries to describe it: “I thought: what is happening here? We have been working for this for two years and and now this. I can’t even describe it. Our dream was taken from us.” The youngest player in the squad had to take the biggest blow. Vergeer: “Our world just collapsed.”
Coach Peter van der Veen, who worked with the group since 2016: “When you see their pain, your heart cries….” He led Oranje U17 to the European Title in May and after he focused fully on winning the world cup. It didn’t go smoothly, the team having had great moments with weak phases and against Mexico, lack of sharpness in front of goal cost the team dramatically.
Van der Veen and staff aren’t successful in getting the team back to their feet for the game for the 3rd place. Taabouni does score the first goal, and a beauty, but in the second half, Oranje implodes. It’s that goalie Calvin Raatsie is in top form otherwise the score would have been embarrassing. Star player Sontje Hansen: “I have to admit, before the game and even during the game, the match vs Mexico was playing in my head. I wasn’t able to kick it, that disappointment. I fear this will be with me for weeks…”
The Oranje squad stayed in Brazil specially for Hansen and to watch te finals between Brazil and Mexico. The FIFA pulled open a can of legends for this, to help FIFA Chairperson Gianni Infantino: Júlio César, Bebeto, Zé Roberto, Roque Júnior, Ronaldo, Cafú and many others.
It’s a weird story. Brazil originally didn’t qualify for this tournament. Peru was certain to go, as Peru was the host, but when the FIFA checked the progress in Peru in March, they were not happy with the developments and decided to host the tournament in Brazil. Ergo, as host country, Brazil was allowed in. And they won it too, in the 93rd minute of the game! Oranje watches with mixed feelings, but by then, Hansen is already taken away by a FIFA person. He needs to be part of the celebrations.
Hansen receives the trophy for top scorer from Ronaldo. A moment to never forget for Sontje. Ronaldo applaudes for Hansen. The latter looks star struck as Ronaldo was his idol when he was a kid. Sontje was born two months before Ronaldo scored twice in the World Cup finals in 2002 but he knows all about the Brazilian: “He was my idol. I even had a hairdo like his… a little bunch of hair on the front, hahaha.” Ronaldo even whispers “Goed gedaan!” in Dutch in the player’s ear (Well Done!). Hansen merely said: thanks. “At least we go home with some sort of trophy.”
The Ajax player is having a remarkable tournament anyway. Last week, Antione Griezmann sent him a message on whatsapp. The Barcelona forward, world champion with France in 2018, let Hansen know he’s following him. “Yo Mini Boss! We follow you and talk about you. When you’re back, we should meet!”
This was the World Cup of Hansen. After the dramatic start vs Japan, coach Van der Veen benched the attacker. But he came back in the team vs the US and since that moment, he reached a terrific level. He scored 6 goals, all beauties and had 3 assists, maybe even more beautiful. But he impressed most with his overall game, his touches, his finesse and brilliance. When Oranje was almost down and out, Hansen got up. When the team started to lose confidence, he injected it into the team by demanding the ball and starting to dribble. He shot Holland to the knock out stage, scored a hattrick in the next game and was the man of the match in the quarters.
Van der Veen: “I don’t want to say that Sontje saved us. It really was a team performance, but yes, it was amazing to see the flow he was in. He made a huge stap in his development and in his professionalism. He took the sub turn well and looked in the mirror and said: my time is now! And it was!”.
Strangely enough, he is not amongst the three best players of the tournament, but he did make a name for himself. Simply ask Ronaldo or Griezmann.
Many scouts traveled to Brazil, mainly to check out Naci Ünüvar, will have circled Hansen’s name. But Oranje had several top performers. Van der Veen’s eyes light up when we mention Youri Regeer. The 16 year old was brought into the squad at the last moment and started on the bench. After Japan he was brought in and never left the team. At Ajax, Vergeer is a #10 with scoring capabilities, but in this Under 17, he plays as a central defender.
Van der Veen: “With Regeer in the team, we simply function better. And that is quite something for a kid only 16 years old. He really presented himself. He makes the right choices on the ball and reads the game so well. This is why he wins many balls too, he is always there where he needs to be. And this is why people compare him to Frenkie de Jong, although Youri is a different type of player. But there are similarities, sure. Youri has a lot to learn still, but for a 16 year old he is quite something.”
So much so that Juventus and Real Madrid already checked his contract status. The squad is aware of this and are kidding the youngster. They call him “Great Player” as a joke but he does deserve his new status. In his first days with the team, he’s quiet and reserved but as the tournament wore on, he started to direct the build up and was continuously positioning his team players. And none of them talked back… Vergeer: “Yes, I think I grew into the tournament, and I’m quite proud actually. But I will never forget that missed penalty.”
Another strong holder in the team is Calvin Raatsie, another Ajax player. The 17 year old goalie made an impression with his footballing skills and could play as a sweeper while also impressing with risky build up passes. Sander Westerveld (ex Liverpool and ex Vitesse) sees the promise, as his keeper trainer: “He is a very complete goalie, which is remarkable for a 17 year old. He can play football too, and he is ok with high balls. Jasper Cillesen has a number of years in him, of course, but over time, Calvin will be his successor in Oranje.”
Three players reaching a high level, it wasn’t enough for the World Cup gold. The most talented players, like Naci Ünüvar, Ki-Jana Hoever and Mohamed Taabouni, simply weren’t good enough on the tournament. “The big lesson is, as long as there is hope, you got to believe in it and go for it. We demonstrated that here and that is a strong lesson. Second lesson: you need to stick to the agreements and if you don’t, you get beaten on this level. It’s been unforgettable and I think these lads will only get better as a result of all this.”
The team manager had a tough job though. “Well, in Holland I already noticed that they were complacent. They won the European title and though that they could coast in Brazil. I really had to wake them up. I confronted them with video material and we had to really go hard. We had some arguments, and harsh words were said. But they woke up. And the contrast surprised me.”
The question remains: how will the Oranje talents develop as a result. “We want to deliver these kids at the gate of the Big Oranje. This experience will help. When you purely look at talent, they could all go all the way. But there is a way to go. Talent alone is not enough. Mentality is what is needed. When you see the energy Brazil puts in to the matches, or the grinta (grit) with which Mexico plays. We can learn a lot from this. Mexico doesn’t need the ball to win matches. They are purely going for the result. Our players need to mature more. Some things – that are part of top sports – are still neglected a tad. Lifestyle, that sortathing. Sleeping enough, eating healthy, drinking enough water, etc etc. That is what makes the difference at the top. It’s percentages, but those win you the game and that makes the difference between a top player or a nice player. They need to step up because I can see the players that are below them…and they’re also extremely talented… So they need to step up.”
Skipper Ken Taylor: “We faced many new things. We had to play a big match every three days, I never did that before. And after the first match, I was benched. Also a first… And I had to learn to deal with that. But, overall, we failed. I mean, we went to win it, and we ended as fourth. That is not good enough. We need to learn to process this, which might be the key lesson for the rest of our career.”
Van der Veen agrees: “Winning teaches you to win. But you can learn from this as well. We were in a rollercoaster together and had good moments and bad moments. Harsh words were used but we also had moments of joy and had a lot of fun at times too. That is the strength of this team.”
The coach will say farewell now, after 3,5 years with this squad. He will now go back to the new group of Under 17s. “I saw these kids go from their puberty to maturity. It’s emotional to say goodbye but I will do so with price. We have had amazing experiences. And I do hope they will all have a wonderful career and that they’ll look back on this time with a smile on their faces.”
Back in the day…
Peru 2005… With Diego Biseswar, Marvin Emnes, Vernon Anita, Jeffrey Sarpong, John Goosens and Ruud Vormer
Boy de Jong, Memphis Depay, Nathan Ake, Terence Kongolo, Karim Rekik, Daan Disveld, and sitting Anass Achahbar, Jetro Willems, JP Boetius, Joris van Overeem and Tonny Vilhena