Thursday’s European Under-19 Championships threw up no shortage of drama as first England saw off 8-man France in extra time, before the hosts Ukraine upset the odds to squeeze past the impressive Serbians to secure their dream Final.
Arguably the showpiece game was up first, although the locals disagreed, staying away from the first Semi Final en masse. They missed a fantastic, dramatic, controversial and at times farcical fixture which went 120 minutes, had three red cards and some great football. It was the French who started well, moving the ball better than England, who looked second best in every department. Despite making four changes, Jean Gallice’s team were quickly into their flow and had an 8th minute lead through Magaye Gueye, after some good work from Yacine Brahimi.
Ryan Boudebouz threatened to make it 2-0 whilst England toiled, but as the first half stretched on the Three Lions came into things a bit more and had their first chance at goal when Matthew Briggs missed a decent chance from Joe Bennett’s free kick. From their next set piece five minutes later the equaliser arrived. Daniel Drinkwater’s 20-yard free-kick was tame and hit the wall, but was smashed into the bottom corner on the rebound by Henri Lansbury, comfortably England’s best player at the Finals.
Both goalkeepers were tested at the start of the second half by both goalscorers respectively, and Daniel Welbeck had a strong penalty appeal turned down before he was substituted injured. Nile Ranger replaced him and was soon in the thick of it, subject to a challenge from Sebastian Corchia, which earned the Frenchman a second yellow card and an early bath. Despite the numerical advantage, England couldn’t find a breakthrough and the match went into extra time.
Oddly, it only took them two minutes of the extended period to grab the lead, as Nathan Delfouneso mopped up an easy tap-in after some fine work from Joe Mattock. Abdel El Kaoutari ensured the French were reduced to nine men for two yellows of his own, and Delfouneso put the game to bed in the second half of extra time with a solo effort. Boudebouz became the third French casualty of some interesting refereeing late on for dissent, and both Lansbury and Mattock hit the woodwork with the French having waved the white flag of surrender. England duly progressed to only their second ever European Under-19 Final.
England: Steele (c), Trippier, Briggs (Hoyte 79), Bennett, Walker, Gosling, Drinkwater, Lansbury, Welbeck (Ranger 75), Delfouneso, Murphy (Mattock 63)
France: Pillot, Corchia, N’Diaye, El Kaoutari, Riviere, Gueye (Partouche 63), Makonda, Boudebouz, Peybernes (Nelson 81), Guilavogui (Le Tallec 52), Brahimi
Goals: Gueye ‘8, Lansbury ’37, Delfouneso ’92, ‘106
The fans showed up in force for the second Semi to see if their hosts could upset the odds and beat Serbia, arguably the best team so far. It didn’t take long for them to make an impact, with Yevhen Shakhov putting Ukraine ahead after just 50 seconds. It totally shocked the favourites, who couldn’t handle the tempo, and further efforts from Yeremenko, Shevchuk and Garmash inside the first 20 minutes caused them even more worries. All of this meant that when the clinical Danijel Aleksic levelled scores halfway through the first half, it was totally against the run of play.
The home team had their lead back before the break though, as Denys Garmash beat Kirovski to send the healthy attendance into raptures once again. Ukraine were seizing their moment, whilst Serbia looked to be the rabbit caught in the headlights of a big occasion. More of the same followed after the restart, with only a cacophony of fouls and some set pieces from Adem Ljajic keeping Serbia from being totally swamped. Garmash and Kyrylo Petrov kept Kirovski busy, but Milic ensured that Serbia still had the ability to pull the game level again by worrying Levchenko.
With time running out, Serbia began to resort to direct play, but had little to no success, allowing the hosts to keep the lead intact. With five minutes left they put things to bed with Garmash’s second, and a place in the final. Korkishko burst through the last line of defence and drew a good save from Kirovski, but the ball stayed in the danger zone and a composed cross found Garmash’s head to swoop into an empty net and confirm their place in Sunday’s showpiece occasion.
Serbia: Kirovski, Miljkovic, Blagojevic, Medojevic, Crnoglavac, Aleksic, Milic (Bubalo 90), Ljajic, Cvetkovic (Djuricic 84), Matic (Prso 45), Milanovic
Ukraine: Levchenko, Kushnirov, Partsvaniya, Kryvtsov, Korkishko, Petrov, Garmash, Shevchuk (Karnoza 90), Shakhov, Yeremenko, Chaykovskiy