So against most expectations our young lions reached the final of the UEFA Under21’s Championship in Sweden. As a fan it had been a good tournament. The Swedes love football, love guests and love having a bit of a party, as long as everyone leaves by 11pm and takes their rubbish home with them. England had comfortably won their group, and even had the luxury of fielding an almost reserve team (not really possible as they had 3 goalkeepers in their squad of 22) for their final group game against Germany. In the semi-final they had thrown away a three goal lead thanks in part to the inexperience of a number of players (step forward Mr Campbell) and some clinical finishing from my man of the tournament, Marcus Berg.
Extra time failed to yield a winner so penalties were needed and for once England held their nerve and were victorious, but not before the bizarre decision to give Joe Hart a yellow card for making funny faces at the Swedes had taken the dampner off events as he would miss the final.
Germany came through a tricky tie with Italy, setting up a game in Malmo against our old enemies. England fans had tried to make the trip in numbers but had been prevented by the cost of the flights. Ryanair were the last airline to fly direct to Malmo and that route ended some 18 months ago meaning the only real route was via Copenhagen. Whilst choice on this route has improved considerably in the past year with newbies CimberAir and Norwegian offering routes from Gatwick, they are not cheap. Last week, on trying to arrange my weekly trip out here I was quoted over five hundred pounds each way by both BA and SAS!
Thomson Sport though came to the EnglandFans rescue. They advertised that IF the team got to the final they would run a trip. Direct flight to Malmo, coach transfers and a match ticket….all for just THREE HUNDRED POUNDS!!!! No overnight stay or meal…With less than 48 hours to the final they cancelled the trip as only 35 fans had booked up…shocking attitude and again a prime example of the greed in the game.
I had luckily enough booked my travel earlier in the month and was coming out here anyway, so on a swelteringly hot day in Malmo (even hotter in London though at 32 degrees) I crossed the Oresund for the final game of teh tournament. England had opted for Scott Loach instead of Joe Lewis in goal and aimed to play Walcott as the central striker in the absence of Agbonlahor (injured) and Campbell (suspended) supported by James Milner and Adam Johnson. Ahh the interesting Mr Johnson. Let me give you the quote he game to UEFA for the tournament programme.
“I like to think I am organised. On my iPod its all about R & B. I tend to have a bit of banter with the lads on the way to the games instead of using music to get into the zone. If I forget my laptop, I would buy a new one out there, thats how important it is.”
So poor little footballer cannot bear to be without a laptop so he has to buy a new one? Is it any wonder they get stick??
Anyway, a quick change back in the hotel and I was in the stadium in good time, not wanting to miss out on possibly the one and only final I see England play in in my lifetime. Looking at the team sheet you do wonder how many of these players would go on to make the senior squad. Kieran Gibbs could be a successor to the odious Ashley Cole, but will he play often enough at Arsenal? Micah Richards and Nedum Onouha had looked OK at centre backs but what hope do they have at Manchester City now that the likes of Eto’o are joining on two hundred thousand a week. Mark Noble and Theo Walcott have got nearly a century of games under their belts at club level and both could go further, although Noble may have to wait for Lampard/Gerard/Barry to be given “one more chance” to show it can work in the centre of midfield. Cranie? Cattermole? Muamba? Hard to see them adding to the senior team. Out of the starting XI only Gibbs and Walcott would be eligible to play in the next qualifying competition anyway so this really was the last opportunity of a generation.
England 0 Germany 4 – Swedbank Stadion, Malmo – Monday 29th June 2009
All the big wigs were here for this one. Ex-UEFA president Leonnard Johansson, Sir Trevor and Michel Platini all took their seats and the closing ceremony unfolded on the pitch – at least this time it was at the right game (see Come on You Cubs post). After the strange looking singer had finished her song we had possibly the weakest singing of the national anthem since the game in Halmstad versus Finland. The stadium was by no means full and there were a few flags of St George dotted around.
England started off with Walcott roaming across the German back four and he nearly made a perfect start, blazing wide in the second minute. England had control of the game and at one point strung together nearly thirty consecutive passes although it was hardly like watching Brazil. Then all of a sudden the Germans found their feet. Prompted by Werder Bremen’s Mesut Ozil in midfield they started pushing England back and almost had an equaliser in the 14th minute when Ozil’s shot was blocked.
Ten minutes later and their attacking flair produced the opening goal. This is not a traditional German team and the industry and workrate of the likes of current players such as Ballack and Metzelder have been replaced by the skill of Ozil, Castro and Boateng. Ozil played a marvellous ball between Cranie and Richards for Castro to run on and side foot past Loach.
There is a revolution in German football and I was witnessing it first hand. Gone are the Torsten’s and Andreas’s (well almost) and in have come Benedikt’s (Howedes), Sami (captain Khedira) and Gonzalo Castro – and with a name like that he can look forward to a warm stress free welcome into the US any time.
England simply could not get near the Germans. The stress of the occasion seemed to have got to Stuart Pearce at one point as he gave the 4th official a big hug – very fetching in his tight black tracksuit. It could have so easily been 2-0 when Sebastian Boenisch’s drive shaved the post and their “Mediterranean” style midfield were having a ball.
Half time brought the Swedish team onto the pitch for a lap of honour after their exploits and the crowd rose generously to acknowledge them and the entertainment they gave during the tournament. We didn’t have to wait long after the restart for some more fun though, although it was at the expense of goalkeeper Scott Loach who completely misread Khedira’s free kick from thirty yards and ended up palming the ball into the net. The Germans knew that was game over and their celebrations on the bench must have been a hard sight for Pearce. Cattermole almost lifted our spirits with a rasping drive in the 57th minute which hit the bar, and Milner’s jinking run in the 62nd minute deserved a better finish than Adam Johnson’s weak side foot straight at Neuer.
Pearce hadn’t given up the fight and when a very rash tackle from Boenisch in front of the bench flattened Milner it looked like “Psycho” was gonna jump on the field and nut the German. A few minutes later and he was screaming at the fourth official when he didn’t give a penalty after Johnson was flawed but again he chose love and not hate, ending up in another clinch with the official.
England simply did not have the attacking options, and Campbell sitting a few rows in front of me should have been ashamed watching this. Walcott is a great player but our constant long ball play was not suited to his style of play, and the impressive Jerome Boateng easily marked him out of the game.
Seventy five minutes on the clock and Sandro Wagner missed an absolute sitter from three yards out but he made up for it a few minutes later when he calmly slotted the ball between Loach’s legs after another great ball from man of the match Ozil. The German bench went mad, running into the corner to celebrate the goal which was a bridge too far for the England team. To add injury to insult a fourth was scored by Wagner, curling the ball in from the edge of the box. This time the goalkeeper decided to sprint the length of the pitch to join in the celebration, earning a ticking off from the linesman in the process.
The game ended with England playing Micah Richards up front as he was likely to score a hatrick. Based on the sloppy defending and the way the Germans were slicing through the midfield surely he would have been better served at the back? England just wanted the final whistle so that they could retreat back home. Good job that Fabio Capello had been unable to make his connecting flight in London from South Africa to see this – he would not have been amused.
Four nil to the underdogs is normally something out of boys own but in this case it was fully deserved. Mesut Ozil was quite rightly awarded the man of the match award. The tournament had started in the heat in Halmstad and ended in the same conditions 100 miles south. Many of these players would not go on to play for their country again, and this would be a tragic game to remember as their last international.
Platini gave out the medals and the trophy as the yellow tickertape fell all around. Sir Trevor gallantly led the English team before cutting a lonely figure at the end of the presentation line, smiling that smile and shaking hands with all of the Germans.
My night was far from over. The Swedes do many things very well. Public transport is not one of them. After waiting on a bus outside the stadium until it was full to busting the driver decided there was too many people on and asked if anyone wanted to get off. When no one came forward he randomly chose some locals to alight and off we went, stopping at every stop along the way despite there being no room on board, and that everyone wanted to go to the station. Every time I have got a train from Malmo it has left late. Tonight when it was the last one for nearly 90 minutes it left slap bang on time, leaving me without a (Swedish) Kroner to my name and a long wait. There’s always 2011 in Denmark!!!!!