Spain opened their 2009 European Under-19 Championships with an impressive come-from-behind victory over Turkey, whilst England and Switzerland, France and Serbia, and Ukraine and Slovenia all drew.
England and Switzerland got things underway first in Donetsk and Brian Eastick’s team may feel harshly done by, having led until stoppage time, when a special goal from Sebastian Wutrich stole a point. The Three Lions went in with an athletic and aggressive front three of Daniel Welbeck, Nile Ranger and Nathan Delfouneso, but despite the intent, they started cautiously, mindful of the importance of not losing the first game of a three-match group. Switzerland were content to follow and the first half was therefore a slow and somewhat turgid affair, livened up ten minutes from the interval with the tournament’s opening goal.
England won a free kick on the edge of the area, which allowed left-back Joe Mattock to step up and send a perfect effort past Oliver Klaus. The Swiss almost hit back instantly but having failed to do so, they began to toil as the heat in the Ukraine picked up in the second half. Welbeck went close twice, with one effort well cleared off the line, and Arsenal’s Henri Lansbury was playing well. As the game ran later, Switzerland became more desperate, but despite making two late saves, England goalkeeper Jason Steele was powerless when Wutrich sent a free kick of his own crashing into the back of the net two minutes into stoppage time to take a point.
France and Serbia had kicked off Group B in Mariupol halfway through the first match, and it was the French who will be more pleased with the 1-1 final score, having played well and picked up a point against a strong opponent, at least on paper. The Serbians started brightly and drew Adboulaye Keita into early action in the French goal, but Les Bleus got going as the first half went on and deservely took the lead shortly before half time. Damien Le Tallec found time and space to play Yacine Brahimi in down the left and the Rennes striker was composed in bending a lovely effort past Aleksandar Kirovski.
The lead wasn’t to last the half though, as Serbia’s two key players combined to bring them back to terms. Manchester United bound Adem Ljajic bound forwards, poked the ball forward and saw Danijel Aleksic get enough on it to find the net. It was as good as it got for the Serbs though, as it was Kirovski who was busier in the second half, saving from Bulot and N’Diaye and most impressively from Le Tallec to keep his team in credit with a tournament opening point.
The hosts were underway third against debutants Slovenia, who suffered the competition’s first red card but were dogged and proud in performance to frustrate the home side and earn a point. Martin Milec nearly caused an early upset as the Ukraine struggled to get to grips with the competition but they got into their stride and saw chances fall to Petrov and Karnoza. They looked particularly dangerous from set pieces, particularly when Karnoza rippled the side netting with a good attempt. Still, they weren’t making any headway, and Petrov spurned the best chance early in the second half, fluffing an unmarked opportunity at the far post.
Slovenia had a similar chance of their own minutes later, but Milec’s attempt went the same way. As the Ukrainian pressure continued, Boban Jovic was sent off for two bookable offences to make the last ten minutes a nervous affair, but Slovenia survived to take a 0-0 draw, even finding time to nearly steal a win through Dejan Zadnikar.
The fourth and final fixture of the day kicked off in Illychivets, the other stadium in Mariupol, pitting Turkey against favourites Spain. The bullish Turks started brilliantly and had a 12th minute lead when some good play down the right found its way across the area to Eren Albayrak, who turned well before lashing a left-footed attempt past David De Gea. Tunay Torun then went down the right himself and had options to pull back to but selfishly shot wide and could have made it 2-0 against the four-time winners. That he didn’t was to be a point of regret, as the lead stayed at a single goal and gave Spain a chance.
It was a chance they took at the start of the second half, as Jose Luis San Martin was felled in the penalty area by Serkan Kurtulus. Juventus midfielder Iago Falqué stepped up and scored, and two minutes later the turnaround was complete. Jordi – impressive on the night – delivered a dangerous cross to the near post, and saw San Martin smash the ball into the top corner. Spain were comfortable enough from that point, despite rising Turkish pressure, and a late attempt from Sercan Yildirim, and duly took the first three points of the competition – already as many as they had in the whole of the 2008 tournament.
Everyone now takes a breather and re-groups ahead of Friday’s second round of matches, headlined by Serbia vs Spain.