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THE 18th under-21 European Championship took
place in Denmark from 11-25 June 2011.

It was held without the participation of 2009 and reigning
champions Germany, as well as 2006 and 2007 champions the Netherlands and 2004 champions and five-time champions
Italy.

This meant that the tournament was well and truly up for
grabs between the eight teams participating. They were: hosts Denmark, Belarus,
2002 champions Czech Republic, 2009 losing finalists and ’82 and ’84 champions
England, Iceland, 1986 and ’96 champions Spain, current under-17 world
champions Switzerland and Ukraine.

Group A consisted of: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and
Belarus; while Group B contained: Czech Republic, Spain, England and Ukraine.

Belarus’s 2-0 win over Iceland got the tournament underway. Switzerland
added to the Scandinavian misery later on in the second match of the group by
beating the hosts 1-0.

Switzerland caused more Nordic nightmares by inflicting
Iceland’s second straight 2-0 defeat in their second match. Fabian Frei opened
the scoring for the Swiss less than a minute while Innocent Emeghara (a
Nigerian born Swiss) scored the second on 40 minutes.

A crowd of over 18,000 (larger than the eventual Final)
watched Denmark go behind to Belarus after Dzmitry Baha netted 20 minutes in.
But just two minutes later Denmark were level thanks to Christian Eriksen
scoring his own rebounded penalty. He is the hottest thing in Danish football
by the way, and is certainly a name to watch out for in the future. Denmark
pressed hard for the winner, which came via a fabulous solo run from Nicolai Jørgensen
who then smashed the ball home from around 20-odd yards out.

Unfortunately Denmark couldn’t carry on their momentum into
the last group match against Iceland, who beat them 1-3. At the same time
Switzerland put three past Belarus without reply to win the group with nine
points out of nine and six goals for with none against.

However, the other three teams in the group had exactly the same record as each other:
one win, no draws, two defeats, three goals for with five against (thus a goal
difference of -2) and three points. In the 3-way tie-break between them it was
Belarus who came out on top with a goal difference of +1. Iceland’s goal
difference was zero while Denmark’s was -1.

So after all that, Switzerland topped the group with Belarus
advancing in second place. Iceland (third) and hosts Denmark (bottom) went out.

Group B kicked-off with a 2-1 Czech victory over Ukraine
before the two favourites for the crown (Spain and England) went into battle.
It was Spain who took the lead in the 14th minute with a goal from
Ander Herrera. Replays show that the young Spaniard may have used his hand to
put the ball in the net but I can’t be sure. England were dominated for most of
the match but crucially kept Spain at just a goal ahead. That was until the 88th
minute when Danny Welbeck coolly slotted the ball into Spain’s goal for
England’s equaliser. There was a hint
of offside in the goal, but after Spain’s goal I think everything was now even.
Even is how the match finished, 1-1.

Spain won 2-0 against the Czech Republic in their second
match, while England could only manage a boring 0-0 draw against Ukraine.
Daniel Sturridge pounded the crossbar and Welbeck missed when clean through but
that was about it. If England wanted to advance to the Semi-Finals, they needed
to beat the Czech Republic. Only
three points would do.

Both England and the Czech Republic had chances to take the
lead but they were all either wasted or saved. Yet with only 14 minutes of time
left, Welbeck headed England into a 1-0 lead. This would be enough to see the Young Lions into the last four. But fate
favoured the Czechs as in the 89th minute Jan Charmosta poked in the
equaliser, and in the fourth minute of added-time Tomáš Pekhart slotted the ball
into an empty net to give the Czech Republic a 2-1 win. Meanwhile, Spain
brushed aside Ukraine 3-0.

Spain won the group with seven points, followed by the Czech
Republic on six. England crashed out in third place, earning just two points
and no victories, while Ukraine propped up the group with just the single
point.

Watching the Young Lions at this tournament was
exactly like watching the senior side. Loads of promise and potential to go the
distance, but humiliation is all we get. But these guys are young. Hopefully
this will be the last time this group of players disappoint like this.

Back to the four sides still in contention for the title
now, and the Semi-Final line-up saw Spain matched up against Belarus, while
Switzerland had to face the Czech Republic.

Belarus took a shock lead in the 38th minute of
their match against Spain after Andrey Varankow’s overhead kick went in off the
post. The young Belarusians almost
caused the upset of the tournament as they got to the 89th minute
still 1-0 up. But Adrián López levelled for Spain to take the game into
extra-time, then scored again to put Spain 2-1 up just before half-time in
extra-time. A 3-1 Spanish victory was secured when Jeffrén Suárez smashed the
ball home from distance.

Switzerland and the Czech Republic both failed to score in
90 minutes, meaning an extra 30 for them as well. Admir Mehmedi scored from
25-yards out for Switzerland in the 114th minute to see his side
into the Final.

But before the Final, a special match needed to be played.
This competition served as the qualifying competition for the Men’s Olympic
Football tournament in London next year, and three places were up for grabs. If
England (who qualified automatically as hosts (and as Great Britain)) made it
to the Semi-Finals then the other three teams would have qualified for the
Olympics no questions asked. But England didn’t get that far and four teams
were left fighting for three places.

Two of these places would go to finalists Spain and
Switzerland, so losing Semi-Finalists Belarus and the Czech Republic would
play-off for the last ticket to London.

The game was all square until the 88th minute
when Egor Filipenko scored for Belarus from the edge of the area to earn
Belarus’s first appearance as an independent nation in the Olympic Football
tournament.

However, that was just the warm-up for the main event, The Grand
Final. Spain and Switzerland both won their groups and had conceded only two
goals between them (both against Spain). Spain were also out to avenge the
senior side’s defeat to Switzerland in last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

Ander Herrera headed Spain into the lead four minutes before
half-time, and nine minutes before full-time defender Thiago Alcântara scored a
free-kick from all of 40-yards out to give Spain a 2-0 and the title of European
Under-21 Champions.

Spanish football celebrates yet another championship.

The 16 matches in the tournament saw 36 goals scored at an
average of 2.25 per match. The total gate for the championships was 101,955,
and average of 6,372 per match. Spain’s Adrián López was the top goal scorer
with a total of five.

Adrián López with his Golden Boot.

So, Spain are now: World champions, European champions,
under-21 European champions and world
ranked #1. Can anybody stop their dominance of international football? We’ll
find out when Spain play in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup which kicks-off at the
end of this July in Colombia.

Sorry about the layout. I have no idea why it has done this.

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