AIPS** in PRAGUE & OLOMOUC : Four teams, six matches, 16 goals – it was an exciting time in Group A during UEFA U21 Euro. But not only in Group A, the other Group B produced the most tantalising finish with a decisive, destiny-defying goal in the very last minute of the last match.
Group A – Best outfield player:
Except for the match against Germany, when Denmark lost 3-0, Jannik Vestergaard was not only the best Danish player but the best in all of Group A. Steady in defence, dangerous in the opposition’s box. He is captain, leader and also a guarantee of success.
Tomas Koubek from Czech Republic offered high skill, especially during the game against Germany, when he saved dozen or more German shots. Czech Republic conceded only three goals at UEFA U21 Euro and in large part that was to Koubek’s merit.
Minutes after the second half of Germany and Denmark had started, Emre Can was fouled outside the box directly in front of Danish goal. The free-kick was taken by Kevin Volland, who scored with a magnificent shot. It was a very important goal, after Volland’s hit Germany completely controlled the situation on the pich.
After the Czech’s goal against Germany the whole Eden Stadium started to push hosts to the semifinal. One more goal was all they needed. Tense and emotional atmosphere followed, but German defence was to strong for Jan Kliment and Tomas Prikryl.
Serbia started with very strong performance against Germany in the first match during group stage, after that Mladen Dodic’s squad has lost games against Czech Republic (0-4) and Denmark (0-2) and had to buy tickets back to Belgrad. After the first game everyone thought that Serbia will be the surprise during this UEFA U21 Euro tournament, now we know, they are only the main dissappointment.
The six matches in Group B of UEFA U21 Euro in Olomouc and Uherske Hradiste produced an entertaining mix of skill and style and introduced both local fans and TV viewers worldwide to a variety of potential superstars of tomorrow.
Best outfield player:
There were high expectations of Bernardo Silva’s skills before the tournament and the Portuguese midfielder perhaps surpassed them. Football goes to a different level when Bernardo takes control. He might appear fragile but he quickly imposes his great technique and intelligence to outclass the opposition defence.
Francesco Bardi had not enjoyed a great season in Italy’s Serie A but coach Gigi Di Biagio believed in him and he started all the matches at the Euro Under 21s. He seemed uncertain against Sweden but made amends against Portugal with a decisive save at the end of the match. Against England he saved crucially on three occasions including one amazing save from Harry Kane in the first half. Bardi, the team captain, broke down in tears on learning that Sweden had drawn with Portugal and hence Italy were eliminated.
The best match:
Like an angel or like the best players, Simon Tibbling waited until last minute of the entire group to secure Sweden’s ticket for semi-finals as tension in City Stadium in Uherske Hradiste reached fever pitch. Swedish and Portuguese flags and scarfs were hurled into the air as children and parents alike hailed a slice of football history for both countries.
Most important moment:
The clock was ticking beyond 89 minutes in the last Group B stage match with Portugal leading Sweden 1-0. With Italy beating England in Olomouc, the Swedes needed an equaliser to reach the semi-final. Then substitute midfielder Simon Tibbling found the ball at his feet in the penalty box. The 20-year-old took one touch, two touches – and shot home for the stuff of Swedish dreams and Italian nightmares.
The best goal:
The outstanding individual goal in the group was England’s late winner against Sweden – an impressive volley from just outside the penalty box by midfielder Jesse Lingard. The goal followed a corner on the right which had been punched clear by Swedish goalkeeper Patrik Carlgren. Lingard controlled the ball on his chest, waited until it bounced up and fired into the far corner of the net with Carlgren helpless.
England may not have been favourites to progress from Group B but unquestionably had the highest-profile of those involved. They had previously scored in every game under manager Gareth Southgate and, in Harry Kane, had the tournament’s best-known player. Ultimately, expectations were as high as the team’s group placing was low.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course at UEFA U21 EURO in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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