With England being knocked out of the Under 21 European Championships at the group stage for the third successive tournament, I’m left to preview the two semi-finals, both of which take place tomorrow…
Portugal vs Germany – Saturday 27th June – 17:00 – Andruv Stadion
The top two favourites left in the competition go head to head in the first semi-final, as Portugal face in Olomouc knowing that there must be a winner, even if it means a penalty shoot-out. Portugal won Group B with five points and a +1 goal difference, which interestingly would have put them third in Group A. They beat England in the first game before drawing to Italy and then Sweden, conceding a last minute equaliser to the latter. The Germans meanwhile, came runners-up in Group A, despite being original tournament favourites and not losing a game. They began and finished the group stage with draws against Serbia and the Czech Republic respectively, convincingly beating eventual group winners Denmark 3-0 in-between. They will want to show the potential that many feel they have not so far, whilst Portugal have got through a tough group and don’t want to go out now. Out of the four teams left, these match probably deserves to be the final, judging by each side’s quality on paper, but only one can make it to the show-piece in Prague. Find out who does on BT Sport 1 from 4:30pm, with kick-off half an hour later.
- Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori looks set to miss out after injuring his thigh in the draw with Sweden but Portugal otherwise have a full complement of players from whom to choose
- Germany have no injury doubts and could start with the same line-up as they did against the Czech Republic. Despite drawing, it is their strongest XI.
Portugal – William Carvalho
Perhaps the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere should have followed the example of William Carvalho, who despite being an established figure in the senior side, made himself available for this tournament, and has proved himself key to Portugal’s hopes. The 23 year old featured in the World Cup last summer and has 13 senior caps, and that experience will be crucial in the Czech Republic, as Carvalho looks to boost his reputation even more by lifting the trophy. He is already on the radar of Manchester United and Arsenal amongst others, with his commanding performances in midfield for Sporting Lisbon catching the eye. Reports that Arsene Wenger is preparing a bid in excess of £20 million tells you just how good Carvalho is.
Germany – Kevin Volland
With three senior caps already to his name, Kevin Volland will be using this tournament to gain vital experience. We know how many good young players Germany have been producing in recent years, and the Hoffenheim striker is the next hot prospect looking to conquer world football. Playing mainly as a number 10 and occasionally as a winger, Volland has got 28 goals and 16 assists in the last three seasons, and was actually included in Joachim Low’s preliminary squad for last summer’s World Cup. He is Germany’s captain in this tournament and is now one step closer to lifting the trophy. The 22 year old scored two in the rout of Denmark, proving his danger in front of goal.
The Key Battle: Bernardo Silva vs Emre Can
Blessed with a mesmerising left foot and PlayStation moves that leave opponents trailing in his wake, Bernardo Silva has already left his mark on the tournament, producing a man of the match display to help Portugal to a 1-0 win against England in their Group B opener.
The playmaker has Deco amongst his admirers and is a full international was a key player in Monaco’s run to the quarter-finals of the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League, and has been handed high responsibilities for someone just 20 years old. Bernardo has one senior cap to his name.
Although he played as a centre-back for Liverpool for the majority of last season, Emre Can features in a holding midfield role for Germany and strangely wears the number 11 shirt.
But his quality is clear none than the less, and is able to start dangerous attack as well as cancel out those from the opposition. Can has high hopes with the Reds next season, and lifting the trophy in the Czech Republic will give him huge confidence.
Last Meeting: Portugal 4-2 Germany (31st May 2011)
After seven matches without a loss Germany’s Under 21 was stopped by Portugal. Two counter-attacks saw the Portuguese 2-0 ahead after just seven minutes, both successfully knocked in by Wilson Eduard. Although Germany struck back early through a header by Jan Kirchhoff after 14 minutes, Rui Fonte extended the hosts lead again just before half-time. Only in the dying seconds of the friendly more goals were added in stoppage time. First Abel struck from 25 metres to make it 4-1, then Sebastian Rudy cut the lead to two.
My Prediction: Portugal 1-2 Germany
The only time we’ve really seen Germany show their full potential at this tournament when they beat Denmark 3-0, and I think they could produce a similar performance to reach the final. There’s certainly huge quality in the Portugal squad though, and they could take the lead through Ivan Cavaleiro. However the Germans have some of the best players in the tournament, and should respond well to going behind, with strikes for Kevin Volland and Max Meyer turning it around.
Denmark vs Sweden – Saturday 27th June – 20:00 – Generali Arena
The other semi-final sees two Scandinavian teams who have surprised many people so far, Denmark and Sweden, face off in Prague, with both hoping to stay in the city for the final on Tuesday. Despite losing 3-0 to Germany, Denmark won Group A thanks to wins over the Czech Republic and Serbia, and are aiming to get to the final of the Under 21 European Championships for the first time in their history. Sweden have made it their once, in 1992, but have never lifted the trophy and nobody gave them much hope this year either. In a supposedly tough group B, the Swedes surprised most, by finishing second. They shocked Italy 2-1 in the opener before losing to England to put themselves back in a precarious position. It looked as though they were going to lose to Portugal too and go out, but a late equaliser from Simon Tibbling sent them through and create huge scenes of celebration in the camp. Both teams will now want to prove that they have made the last four through merit and not luck, with one reaching the final. You can find out who it will be on BT Sport from 7:30pm, with kick-off half an hour later.
- Sweden defender Joseph Baffo could be missing after he was replaced late on against Portugal, having suffered a shoulder injury, while Simon Tibbling’s impact off the bench could see him rewarded with a place in the starting XI.
- For Denmark, recalls for Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre Hjobjerg and Ajax’s Viktor Fischer helped play their part in victory against Czech Republic and the pair should again start after missing the defeat by Germany earlier in the tournament.
- Left-back Jonas Knudsen is back available having served a one-match suspension against Serbia but he may have to make do with a place on the bench after Riza Durmisi impressed as his replacement last time out.
Denmark – Pione Sisto
The Danish Superliga player of the year in 2014, who scored a hat-trick on his debut for the Under-21 side, Pione Sisto’s probable departure from FC Midtjylland in his homeland will likely be an ever-present gossip columns until the window slams shut in September. The left-sided midfielder has been linked to, among others, Barcelona, Juventus, Milan, Manchester City, Arsenal and Porto, which tells you something about the promise he has shown. He helped Midtjylland to their first league title in 2014-15 and has drawn comparisons to his compatriot Christian Eriksen. The 20 year old scored the winning goal in the tournament opener late on as Denmark beat the Czech Republic 2-1.
Sweden – John Guidetti
As a soon-to-be free agent, John Guidetti will be gunning for goals in a bid to impress potential suitors. He’s already bagged one so far in the tournament, scoring the equaliser against Italy in the opener. The striker has two caps at senior level, but is a regular for the Under 21s and a prolific scorer too, getting 11 goals in 21 games. Guidetti spent most of 2014-15 on loan at Celtic, making a great start scoring 10 times in 11 matches, before a much less impressive second half of the season. The talent is clearly there from a man who was once one of Europe’s hottest prospects, but he is yet to fully bring it out in the Czech Republic.
The Key Battle: Pierre Hjobjerg vs Simon Tibbling
Left out of the 3-0 defeat to Germany, Pierre Hjobjerg’s absence in the Denmark midfield showed hugely, as they were overrun and couldn’t handle attack after attack.
Coming back in against Serbia, he set up Viktor Fischer’s goal in 2-0 win, and showcased the quality that tells you he is a Bayern Munich player.
With seven caps (1 goal) for the senior Danish team, Hjobjerg spent last season on loan at Augsburg, but will be looking to break through and become a regular at the Allianz Arena next season.
After coming on as a substitute to score the vital equaliser against Portugal that sent Sweden through to the semi-finals, Simon Tibbling could be in line for a start in this game, hoping for a similar impact.
It was his first goal for the Under 21s in 16 appearances, whilst he only hit the back of the net once for FC Groningen in 17 games in 2014-15. This suggests that the 20 year old is not a goalscoring midfielder, and his job could be to try and stop the onslaught of Denmark attacks.
Last Meeting: Denmark 2-2 Sweden (11th June 2015)
Denmark overcame an early red card for central defender Patrick Banggaard to hold Sweden to a 2-2 draw in Copenhagen. From the off the home team were dominant, but not long after Uffe Bech hit the crossbar on 16 minutes, Sweden’s John Guidetti was brought down in the area, leading to Banggaard’s dismissal. Guidetti scored from the spot but almost instantly Nicolai Brock-Madsen made it 1-1 after a corner from the right. Despite their man disadvantage, Denmark continued to have the majority of the chances but a shot off the post from Riza Durmisi was the closest they got, until the Brøndby IF full-back himself was fouled for a 66th-minute penalty. Brock-Madsen converted, only for substitute Simon Gustafsson to equalise for Sweden with four minutes to go.
My Prediction: Denmark 2-0 Sweden
To me, it’s quite easy to see who has the better team, and that’s Denmark. As long as Sisto, Hjobjerg and Fischer are on form, they could sweep Sweden aside, giving John Guidetti and co no chance for a comeback. I think that goals two goals from the latter will gave the Danes a 2-0 win and set up a final against Germany, giving them a chance to amend their defeat earlier in the tournament.