After Germany upset pre-tournament favourites Spain to win the European U21 Championship, we look back at what we learned from the final…
Underestimate Germany at your peril
Germany’s hopes of winning the European U21 Championship for only the second time were written off in the build-up to Friday’s final, given the sheer gulf in quality, elite-level experience and household names residing in the Spain squad.
But by the time the ticker-tape had settled in Krakow, their doubters had well and truly been silenced. But was Germany’s victory ever in doubt? After all, we are talking about the same nation whose second-string senior side have reached the final of the Confederations Cup.
For all the talk of Marco Asensio and Saul Niguez, it was the lesser known Mitchell Weiser who stole the show as Stefan Kuntz’s men produced when it mattered most for the footballing nation who simply don’t know how to lose.
Step too far for Spain
From Asensio to Saul, Dani Ceballos to Gerard Deulofeu, Spain lit up this summer’s tournament in Poland. From start to finish, Albert Celades’ men took up the mantle of tournament entertainers, scoring the most goals and conceding the fewest on their way to the final.
But the showpiece event in Krakow proved a step too far for La Roja as they failed to unlock a well-regimented German outfit.
Despite having talent by the bucketful, Friday’s underwhelming display serves as a timely reminder this latest crop of Spanish talent need to be given time to develop before shouldering the expectancy which their predecessors carry.
No plan B for Spain
Spain looked to possess all the answers as they clinically dispatched Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia and Italy on their way to the final, where a record-equalling fifth European crown beckoned.
But they were found wanting as Germany forced them to defer from their tried and trusted approach which has served them so well previously.
“Germany’s game-plan made the Spanish go wide, which they do not like,” England manager Aidy Boothroyd told Sky Sports after the game.
“They like going through the centre, which they were unable to do, and the Spanish simply had no response.”
Encouragement for England
It’s difficult to draw positives from England’s campaign in Poland with Tuesday’s semi-final heartache still so fresh in the memory. Defeat on penalties, to Germany doesn’t get any easier with time or if it occurs at U21 level.
However, having asked substantially more questions of the eventual champions than Spain did in the final before succumbing to the lottery of spot-kicks, Boothroyd’s men can hold their heads high.
What’s more, who knows how far England could have gone had the likes of Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli been allowed to participate. On reflection, England’s future may be a lot brighter than we think.