The group stage of the Under-21 European Championship in the Czech Republic was filled with upsets, especially in Group B were none of the two favorites were able to make it out of the group. England and Italy had superior teams on paper compared to Portugal and Sweden, but after the group stage, it’s those two nations who are still standing. From Group A, pre-tournament favorite Germany went through, but Denmark won the group.
Denmark topped Group A after winning two out of the three group stage games, beating the host nation 2-1 in the opening game of the tournament. That was followed by a really flat performance against Germany where the Danes lost 3-0. They bounced back with a 2-0 win in the last group game against Serbia, winning 2-0 after goals by Rasmus Falk and Viktor Fischer.
It was good for Denmark that two out of their three forwards scored in the game against Serbia as both Falk and Fischer has a lot of talent. Having scored their first goals of the tournament will certainly boost the confidence heading into the game against Sweden. Denmark against Sweden is a big rivalry, no matter the sport and at what level. It can be anything from a youth handball tournament to a Under-21 European Championship semifinal, both countries wants the win and the bragging rights.
Sweden was seen as the weakest team in Group B that included England, Italy and Portugal. England had a phenomenal team on paper with stars like Harry Kane of Tottenham. Kane was second in scoring in the Premier League, but the English only won a single game (1-0 over Sweden) and ended up last in Group B. Sweden started off the tournament with a real upset as they beat Italy 2-1 despite going down a man and being down 1-0. The Swedes might not have the best team on paper, but the character of this side is admirable.
The Swedes never give up. They fought tooth and nail against England, and if it wasn’t for a monster blast from Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard late in the second half, Sweden would have gotten a point against England in the second game of the group. They knew that they needed at least a point against Portugal in the final game. Italy was beating England handedly and Sweden held the tiebreaker over Italy, so they were content as it was still 0-0 late in the game against Portugal. But then the Portuguese took the lead in the 82nd minute, and the fighting spirit kicked in for the Swedes. Simon Tibbling tied it up in the 89th minute and Sweden was heading to the semifinals.
This will be a pretty open game, but the Danes will be the slight favorite. The Swedes must have the courage to push on more in the attacking third and get to scoring opportunities.
In the other semifinal, Portugal will go up against Germany. The Germans were heavy favorites heading into the tournament as the youth system in German football is one of the best in the world. They are spitting out quality players like they’re made in a factory, and I’m sure that several of the players in this squad will grow up to become part of the senior national team.
Germany has dominated all the games in the group stage, but they only managed to get one win in three games. In that 3-0 win over Denmark, we saw just how well the Germans can play. In order to beat a very defensively strong Portugal side, they will need to play like they did against Denmark and be effective in the final third. They drew the opening game against Serbia 1-1 and had the same result against the Czech Republic in the final game. There’s no room for error when playing in a semifinal, but sometime the nerves of the big stage can have a negative effect on certain players.
Portugal has been impressive all throughout the tournament and especially goalkeeper Jose Sa. They also have William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva, two future superstars. These three players will have to keep up their high level of play as Germany is not a team to take lightly. Besides the 1-1 draw against Sweden, the Portuguese beat England 1-0 in the opening game and then had a scoreless draw against Italy.
No matter what, we are up for some great soccer from the stars of tomorrow.
June 27: Portugal – Germany (Noon EST/9am PST)
June 27: Denmark – Sweden (3pm EST/Noon PST)
Both games are available on ESPN’s digital platforms.