I’ve written this a few phrase a few times now, but I think it sums up this sums up this year’s Under 21 European Championship perfectly: nothing went according to the script. The eventual winners were Sweden, who claimed their first ever crown by beating Portugal in the final. Many thought that the Scandinavians wouldn’t make it out of Group B, but instead it was the hotly fancied Italy and England that were sent packing early. As were Serbia and hosts Czech Republic from Group B. Tournament favourites Germany were convincingly knocked out in the semi-finals by Portugal, whilst it was Denmark who the eventual champions beat in the last four. Read on as I look at the highlights of the tournament, how England fared and if my predictions were anywhere near correct.
Player of the Tournament
William Carvalho – Portugal
With 13 caps already for the Portuguese senior side, it was no surprise that William Carvalho lit up the tournament in the Czech Republic. He featured in every single minute as his country finished as runners-up, playing an instrumental role at the base of the midfield diamond. The 23 year old attempted and completed more passes than any other player in the tournament, and won the Man of the Match award in two of his five games. He may have missed the decisive spot-kick in the final, but his individual performances throughout the competition meant his reputation has increased rather than been damaged. It’s no surprise that Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United want to sign him this summer.
2nd – Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
3rd – Oscar Lewicki (Sweden)
My Team of the Tournament
- GK – Jose Sa (Portugal): By quite a distance the best goalkeeper at the tournament, Jose Sa kept Four clean sheets and conceded just one goal, which is an incredible record. He kept Portugal in the final with a string of second half saves. Had I continued the above ranking of best players, Sa would have come fourth.
- RB – Pavel Kaderabek (Czech Republic): German side Hoffenheim signed Pavel Kaderabek just before the tournament started, and it looks to be a great bit of business. He scored the opening goal in the tournament and throughout the group stages looked a threat bombing forward before the hosts were knocked out.
- CB – Jannik Vestergaard (Denmark): Denmark changed tactics quite a bit during the tournament, but Jannik Vestergaard held down the centre-back spot with a number of solid displays. It’s no surprise that he is a regular for the seniors and closing in on 100 Bundesliga appearances for Werder Bremen. He’s nearly 6ft 7in, and scored against the Czech Republic.
- CB – Paulo Oliveira (Portugal): Another big reason why Portugal were so good defensively, Paulo Oliveira played every minute of the tournament. The 23 year old put in a number of key blocks and tackles—particularly in the latter stages as the runners-up’s defence held firm but suffered penalty shootout heartbreak.
- LB – Ludwig Augustinsson (Sweden): A sturdy if unspectacular left-back, Ludwig Augustinsson got better as the tournament grew on, and is now on the radar of Liverpool, according to reports. He provided good deliveries from set-pieces and was tough to beat on 1v1 situations, winning the tournament follows being named the Swedish Allsvenskan best left-back last season.
- CDM – William Carvalho (Portugal): Is there a need to justify the Player of the Tournament’s place in this team? William Carvalho dominated the middle of the park in every game, controlling the tempo and flow of each match and in the process make Europe’s big guns even more desperate to sign him. Sporting Lisbon have got a fight on their hands to keep him this summer.
- CM – Oscar Lewicki (Sweden): Sweden’s best player on the way to lifting the trophy, Oscar Lewicki may only stand at 5ft 8in, but played an extremely tactile tournament and snuffed out opposing chances as if 11 lives depended on it. He was also superb defensively, putting in an average of 3.6 tackles per game, one of the best records at the tournament.
- CM – Ondrej Petrak (Czech Republic): The only player to get more than one assist at the tournament, Ondrej Petrak was the hosts’ best player as they went out at the group stages. The 23 year old was also excellent defensively, with no player averaging more tackles and interceptions per game combined (6.7)
- CAM – Bernardo Silva (Portugal): Portugal didn’t just have one outstanding midfielder in their team, as the performances of Bernardo Silva also lit up the tournament. He scored once, and was perhaps the best technical player in the tournament with his superb dribbling and close control. In the semi-final against Germany Silva was simply phenomenal.
- ST – Kevin Volland (Germany): Despite the German side being disappointing overall, Kevin Volland still showed why he is one of Europe’s hottest prospects scoring twice and setting up one goal – in the process claiming the silver boot. If the players around him played better, then the 22 year old may have got more and sent his country further.
- ST – John Guidetti (Sweden): Like Volland, John Guidetti managed two goals and one assist at the tournament, but picked up the Bronze boot because it took him more games to do it. Confidently scoring his penalty in the final shoot-out, the 23 year old became the face of Sweden’s campaign with his passionate interviews and strong performances.
In terms of differences from UEFA’s Team of the Tournament, there are five. Three of them come at the back as I have chosen Pavel Kaderabek, Paulo Oliveira and Ludwig Augustinsson, whilst UEFA went for Sweden duo Victor Lindelof and Filip Helander and Portugal’s Raphael Guerreiro. The only other changes are that Ondrej Petrak and John Guidetti are in mine and England’s Nathan Redmond and Portugal’s Ivan Cavaleiro are in UEFA’s.
*All stats collected from WhoScored.com
Goal of the Tournament
Jesse Lingard vs Sweden
2nd – Kevin Volland vs Denmark
3rd – Andrea Belotti vs England
Game of the Tournament
Portugal 5-0 Germany
Portugal reached the final of the European Under-21 Championship for only the second time thanks to a remarkable semi-final win over Germany. They led the tournament favourites 3-0 at half-time through Bernardo Silva’s fierce strike, a Ricardo tap-in and Ivan Cavaleiro’s curling shot into the top corner. Joao Mario’s deflected shot and Joao Cancelo’s flick completed the rout in the second half. Read the full match report here.
2nd – Denmark 1-4 Sweden
3rd – Portugal 1-1 Sweden
Statistics (from WhoScored.com)
1st = Jan Kliment (Czech Republic) – 3 goals
2nd = Kevin Volland (Germany) – 2 goals, 1 assist in 352 minutes
3rd = John Guidetti (Sweden) – 2 goals, 1 assist in 429 minutes
1st = Ondrej Petrak (Czech Republic) – 2 assists
2nd = Slavoljub Srnic (Serbia) – 1 assist in 30 minutes
3rd = Matej Hybs (Czech Republic) – 1 assist in 45 minutes
What about England?
Pretty dreadful. Despite being second favourites to win the entire tournament with most betting companies, England crashed out at the group stages for the third successive European Championship. Many people have put it down to Gareth Southgate’s selection policy, choosing not to take the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere. We lost the opener to Portugal, before giving ourselves hope with a win against Sweden courtesy of Jesse Lingard’s spectacular late goal. Our destiny was in our hands going into the final group game against Italy, but it was the worst performance of the lost as we went 3-0 down before Nathan Redmond scored a late consolation. Harry Kane failed to live up to expectations and was woeful in front of goal. On numerous occasions he took pointless shots from outside the box that went miles wide when he had better options. According to WhoScored, the Tottenham Hotspur man had 5.7 shots per game, 2 more than anybody else at the tournament – and he didn’t score once. However, we were the only team to beat eventual champions Sweden, and Nathan Redmond made it into UEFA’s Team of the Tournament, so there positives, even if I am clutching at straws. It doesn’t overshadow what was another dreadful tournament for the Three Lions though.
I made predictions before the tournament as well as for games during it. Both were horribly wrong. I predicted Germany to win it and England as runners-up, whilst I didn’t think either of the eventual finalists Portugal or Sweden would make it out of the group. However, I did predict that Denmark would make it out of Group A but lose in the semi-finals. Here’s how my game by game predictions went…
England vs Portugal
- My Prediction: 2-1
- Final Score: 0-1
Sweden vs England
- My Prediction: 0-1
- Final Score: 0-1
England vs Italy
- My Prediction: 1-1
- Final Score: 1-3
Portugal vs Germany
- My Prediction: 1-2
- Final Score: 5-0
Denmark vs Sweden
- My Prediction: 2-0
- Final Score: 1-4
Sweden vs Portugal
- My Prediction: 1-2
- Final Score: 0-0 (Sweden win on penalties)
So that’s an atrocious one correct score out of six. Trust me they’re a lot better for the Women’s World Cup…