UEFA: Same old story for England as Swiss and Spanish impress
The group phase in the 2011 UEFA Under-21 European Championship had many reaching for the superlatives in order to describe the overall contribution to the tournament from the Swiss and the Spanish whilst many could only look on in dismay as the English, who had reached the final of this competition two years ago, went out with a whimper rather than a bang.
The Swiss seem to be going through a purple patch at youth level at the moment. Having won the FIFA World Under-17 Championship against hosts Nigeria two years ago, the Swiss are hoping to add to that success and have shown that they possess plenty of ability as they won all of their three group matches against hosts Denmark, Belarus and Iceland. Players such as Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri have impressed greatly as the Swiss scored six goals without reply in Group A to become the only team to win their group with a 100% record and their reward is a semi-final match-up against Czech Republic. The Czechs only needed a draw in their final group B match against England to ensure progression to the next stage but their dreams seemed to be wilting late on after Danny Welbeck had scored his and England’s second goal of the tournament to give the Three Lions the lead with just fourteen minutes to play. This didn’t deter the Czechs from sticking to their gameplan, however, and their patience was rewarded with two goals in stoppage time from Jan Chramosta and Tomáš Pekhart. England were going home after playing some less than adventurous football whilst the Czechs remain in the tournament after sticking to their tactics until the dying minutes.
If Switzerland are a favourite to become a finalist in this tournament then so too are Spain. The Spanish suffered a minor setback in their opening group B game against England, in which they dropped two points late on following a late Danny Welbeck equalizer in a 1-1 draw, but got through unscathed in their remaining two matches against the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Two players have stood out in particular for the Spanish as Adrián and Juan Mata have scored all but one of their six goals between them and they most certainly will carry the biggest threat to a Belarus side who could only qualify for the semi-finals by virtue of having a better head-to-head record over Iceland and Denmark in Group A after each team had finished the group on three points. Nevertheless, for Belarus to get this far in a tournament they’re participating in for only the third time is a great achievement especially as they failed to get beyond the group stage in their previous two appearances in 2004 and 2009.
The semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, June 22nd.