The final day of group fixtures at the 2009 European Under-19 Championships started with all four Semi Final berths up for grabs. At the end, England had secured their path by smashing seven past Slovenia, and were joined by hosts Ukraine, the impressive Serbia, and France, who beat Spain to eliminate the favourites.
Group B was first to kick off, and as with all UEFA group finales, both matches kicked off simultaneously. With Serbia in the ascendancy, their fixture agaisnt Turkey took a back seat to the intriguing clash of Spain and France, where the Spaniards held the advantage with an opening round win over Turkey, meaning Les Bleus had to win. This fact wasn’t lost on Jean Gallice’s charges, who flew out of the traps with a high tempo opening spell, pressing high up the pitch. Damien Le Tallec almost found gains, but was well stopped by reserve goalkeeper Diego Marino.
Oriol tested France goalkeeper Rémi Pillot at the other end but the first goal was always going to be French and just shy of the half hour they duly went ahead. Yacine Brahimi, scorer of their first goal of these championships, neatly exchanged passes with Ryad Boudebouz and kept his cool to slot the ball past Marino and give France a strong advantage. Spain simply didn’t seem interested – a trend of their youth summer to date – and were lucky not to be two down before the break as Le Tallec headed a cross against the frame of the goal.
As if attempting to make the game more entertaining for the neutral, France decided that one goal was all they needed and chose to sit back, allowing Spain to come forward and get into their stride. Substitute Dani Aquino – the team’s top goalscorer during qualifying only to go off the boil for the Finals – wasted their best chance with a well-connected volley, and Joselu San Martin had an opening close quite quickly, but it was to end in negative circumstances when Oriol was sent off in the dying seconds for a frustrated lash out at N’Diaye. The card may have been a tad harsh, but Spain’s elimination was totally deserved.
In the other group match, Serbia did what was expected of them by seeing Turkey off 1-0 with a first-half Danijel Aleksic goal. Turkey had Ridvan Simsek sent off in the second half and failed to cause an upset and make good on coach Ogun Temizkanoglu’s claims of a Semi Final berth. Serbia thus won the group, whilst France took second place. Attentions then turned to Group A’s evening fixtures, where Switzerland topped the group going into the last round of games, where everyone could still qualify.
England emphatically made sure their competition was to continue, as Slovenia’s lack of experience at this level was finally found out. Five down at half time, they eventually succumbed to a 7-1 defeat, and were reduced to ten men for the third straight game as Boban Jovic was dismissed for the second time in a week. Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury steered the first home after good work from Nathan Delfouneso, before turning provider with a corner which was headed home by Fulham’s Matthew Briggs.
In the 25th minute it was 3-0 with Lansbury again at the heart of things, playing an incisive pass to Daniel Welbeck to finish a swift counter attack. Welbeck had his second seven minutes later courtesy of an Andrew Tutte assist, and the fifth came after Jovic was sent off for a high challenge on Lansbury. Undeterred, England’s talisman delivered a corner for Delfouneso to add his name to the expanding list of goalscorers. But for Alen Vukcic, Welbeck would have had a first half hat-trick, but a superb goalline clearance kept it to just five.
Slovenia got themselves a consolation from Dejan Dimitrov to start the second half but England had switched down some gears, content with their win. Further goals were added by Delfouneso and Nile Ranger, and England topped their group. That was because of a dramatic late goal in Donetsk, where hosts Ukraine elimiated Switzerland with an 85th minute goal from Serhiy Rybalka.
Serhiy Kryvtsov and Denys Garmash had early opportunities to put their team ahead as Ukraine started with a steely intent to do their home fans – in great numbers again – proud, but Oliver Klaus was equal to their efforts in the Swiss goal. The Swiss needed something to go their way and on the stroke of half time got their wish, when Vitaly Kaverin was sent off for a second bookable offence – kicking the ball away. With their opponents down to ten and needing a win, the Swiss firmly had the upper hand.
Sebastian Wutrich had a glorious chance to put the group to rest but his effort flew over the crossbar, and Ukraine introduced another striker in Sergii Shevchuk, desperate for one chance to fall their way. With just five minutes remaining Rybalka had that chance, reacting when opposing defenders didn’t, to sweep past Klaus and seal a dramatic turnaround.
The result means the Semi Finals shape up as follows:
England vs France
Serbia vs Ukraine
Both matches will be played Thursday, with kickoff times and venues to be confirmed. Football Prospects will, as ever, cover them for you.