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The UEFA European under-21 Championship groups have finished, and there was final day heartbreak for England as they went down 3-1 to Italy. The result mattered little though, as the 1-1 draw in the other group game saw Portugal and Sweden safely through to the semi-finals.
In the other group Denmark caused a shock by qualifying alongside Germany, which left Serbia and the hosts, Czech Republic, out in the cold. The Danes beat Serbia 2-0 in the final game, and that result along with the Germany 1-1 draw with Czech Republic was enough to get them through.
Both semi-finals will be played within a few hours of each other on Saturday night, and it promises to be a cracking evening of football.
Saturday 28th June:
Portugal U21 v Germany U21 – 5:00pm
Germany are the favourites for the competition but they could easily come unstuck against a talented Portugal squad, who represent a little bit of value here.
The Germans opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Serbia, which might have been a slight disappointment, but they swept aside any worries with a 3-0 demolition of Denmark next time out. With one game to go they looked sure to finish top of the group, but they let a 1-0 lead slip against Czech Republic, with the game finishing all-square at 1-1. Denmark pipped them to the post with two wins over Czech Republic and Serbia, and that left Germany facing the top side from group B – Portugal.
The Portuguese have impressed with every game, and they kicked off with a 1-0 victory over England. They were kept out by Italy in a 0-0 draw in the second game, before drawing 1-1 with Sweden in the last match. They spurned plenty of chances in that game before taking an 82nd minute lead, but were undone by some late, frantic Swedish attacking and conceded the equalizer.
Much of the Portuguese play has gone through Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, who has been linked with a big money move to Manchester United or Arsenal in recent months. He played for the full national team at the World Cup in Brazil last year, and he has been dominant in the under-21 midfield at this tournament.
Germany are never short of young talent, but a look at their last few games makes interesting reading. They’ve drawn four, lost one, and won one of the last six games, the sole victory coming in the 3-0 win over Denmark. Portugal’s record is nothing to shout about either, and they’ve drawn three, lost two, and won just one of their last six. The victory was the 1-0 over England, although they were probably good value for a win against Sweden before that last-ditch equalizer.
With that in mind, Portugal are a huge price for what should be a very even contest. This under-21 tournament has already thrown up plenty of shocks, and there is no reason why Portugal can’t cause another one.
Denmark U21 v Sweden U21 – 8:00pm
Sweden – 12/5 3.40 +240 2.40 2.40 -0.42 with Bet365
Much the same could be said about the other semi-final, which is an all-Scandinavian affair between Denmark and Sweden. Both sides have performed incredibly well to get to this point, but both are here on merit after some excellent play during the group stage. The two teams met just a week before the start of the competition in a friendly, and played out a 2-2 draw, so there is no apparent reason why Sweden should be classed as the outsider.
The Swedes also competed in what was arguably the toughest group, and did very well to come out ahead of Italy and England. They started the campaign with a superb come-from-behind win against Italy that would come to define their tournament. It looked gloomy when they conceded a first-half penalty and were reduced to ten men, with Italy converting for a 1-0 lead. However, Sweden fought back with two second-half goals to take the three points and set them on their way. They were beaten 1-0 by England in the second game, and faced a tough assignment against Portugal in the last match. There’s no denying they rode their luck a little before conceding the late goal, but they fought back from the brink once again to snatch the draw they needed to qualify.
Denmark also came from behind in the first group game, and it was even more impressive as it was against the hosts, Czech Republic. They were outclassed against Germany in the second group game, and they faced a talented Serbia game to try and qualify. The 2-0 win took them above Germany onto six points, and they’ve been the only side to win two games in the competition so far.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but there is a suspicion that neither Czech Republic or Serbia are of the quality of the other sides in this tournament. Czech Republic didn’t have to qualify as the host nation, and they put up a good show for the home fans, with the 4-0 win over Serbia a highlight, but they may not have been here if they’d had to go through a long qualifying campaign. Serbia were thought by many to be dark horses for the tournament after beating Spain over two legs in the qualification play-offs, but they showed very little in the three games with just a point from Germany to show for their efforts.
Denmark beat both of those teams, but were soundly beaten 3-0 by Germany in-between. There’s no particular reason that they should be favourites here, and once again the value lies with the outsider in Sweden.
Under-21 European Championship Semi-Finals:
Sweden – 12/5 3.40 +240 2.40 2.40 -0.42 with Bet365