The UEFA European under-21 Championship reaches its climax on Tuesday night as Portugal and Sweden do battle for the trophy. It’s an unexpected final, at least as far as the bookies are concerned, as both teams were big outsiders to do the business in their semi-final games. Plenty of people will have lost money on those weekend semis, but if you followed our advice, you should be sitting pretty after backing these two at very big odds.
Both sides came from the ‘group of death’ which also involved England and Italy, and it confirms the suspicion that it was much the stronger of the two groups. Germany and Denmark came through from group A, but neither could live with their opponents in a pair of decidedly one-sided games.
Portugal finished top of Group B to set up a semi-final with Germany, who finished as runners-up in group A. The Germany team were still favourites for the entire competition at that point, and went into the game as clear favourites too. However, they simply couldn’t live with the young Portuguese side, and found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-0 drubbing. There were five different goal scorers in a dominant display, and much of the good attacking work was going through Monaco playmaker, Bernardo Silva. Three first-half goals were quickly followed by a fourth just after half-time to put to bed any thoughts of a German comeback, and the fifth came along in the 71st minute to give the scoreline a very comfortable look.
We tipped Portugal and Sweden to win, and neither ever looked like letting us down. Two early goals put Sweden in charge, and although Denmark pulled one back with almost half an hour left, it was Sweden who went on to add to their tally, winning 4-1. The Swedes finished 2nd in group B behind Portugal, and Denmark topped group A ahead of Germany after wins against the Czech Republic and Serbia. Sweden were on the verge of going out in the final group game, as they trailed Portugal 1-0 with just seven minutes left. The equalizing goal came in the dying moments and booked them a place in the semis ahead of Italy. Having gone ahead, the Swedes were in a position to sit back, soak up pressure and try to hit on the break. They did this to good effect, and the breakaway fourth goal came when Denmark had committed men forward in search of an equalizer.
We have a great reference point for this match in the game that these two sides played during the group stages, although its worth remembering the circumstances that surrounded the contest. It was the final group game and at that point, any of the four teams could have qualified. England faced Italy in the other group match, which was being played at the same time. An Italian win would have meant that both Portugal and Sweden qualified if they happened to draw. As news filtered through that Italy had race into a two-goal lead, the match – which was at 0-0 – suddenly became very cagey. Portugal were still the dominant side though, and fashioned several very presentable chances, before snatching a goal in the 84th minute. Sweden threw the kitchen sink at them and got their equalizer, while Italy went on to win 3-1.
That took the Swedes through, but one suspects that if it had been an earlier group game Portugal may have turned the screw a little bit. The Portuguese showed a lot of professionalism to remain solid and secure their place in the semi-finals, but if they had needed to win, it might have been a very different story.
Moving on to the final, both teams are making their second appearance in an U21 final, with both losing their previous appearance to Italy. Sweden were beaten 2-1 on aggregate in the 1992 final over two legs, while Portugal lost the 1994 final 1-0 with a side that featured Luis Figo and Rui Costa.
Sweden defender Joseph Baffo missed the semi-final win due to a shoulder injury, but he is expected to return for the final. The Swedes have no other injury concerns. Coach Hakan Ericson said he expected the game to be similar to the last time the teams met, just a few days ago, pointing out that despite Portugal’s superior possession, his side had as many attempts on target. The coach is entitled to say that, but those who saw the game will be under no illusion which was the better side. Ericson also took the unusual step of introducing each of his backroom staff individually at his latest press conference, making a point of each of their contributions to Sweden’s achievement. On the one hand that can be seen as a great gesture of togetherness, but on the other perhaps it might have been best left for after the final – after all, they might win. Those actions suggest that the Sweden camp feel that they have already achieved a huge amount by reaching the final, but might also give a little insight into how they rate their own chances.
Portugal’s only injury doubt is central defender Tiago Ilori. He was due to play in the semi-final but had to pull out during the warm-up and it remains to be seen if he will return to the fold for the final. That didn’t stop them keeping a clean sheet against Germany though, and Sweden are actually the only side to have scored against the Portuguese in the whole competition. They’ve kept out England and Italy as well as the Germans, and that should stand them in good stead in the final. Sweden are yet to keep a clean sheet in the tournament, and with Portugal’s attacking talent, it’s hard to see them doing so in the final.
UEFA under-21 European Championship Final, Tuesday 30th June 2015
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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