Monday, June 29, 2009

Euro u21 Final: England's great chance

UEFA u21 Championship Final, Malmo, Sweden

England v Germany

After a ding-dong semi final in which they threw away a three-goal lead before winning 5-4 on penalties, England return to Malmo for the final of the UEFA u21 Championship.

Stuart Pearce will be missing three key players through suspension - goalkeeper Joe Hart and forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell, which means Theo Walcott should take on a central striking role against the Germans, who edged Italy 1-0 to reach the final.

Pearce will be confident of victory, after his selection with ten changes outplayed the Germans and fought to a 1-1 draw in the group stage in Halmstad. Despite the suspended absentees, England's squad remains deeper and more battle-hardened than any other.

While England's Premier League is generally considered detrimental to youth development, its academies temples of cultural globalisation instead of national breeding grounds, a victory for the u21s in Sweden tonight will reassure doubters.

Germany have not looked as impressive as Serbia or Sweden overall but like all German elftals they are game-savvy and tournament-savvy enough to reach the final even when they are not one of the best two teams.

Plus, coach Horst Hrubesch has a couple of aces in talented playmaker Mehsut Ozil of Werder Bremen and attacking midfielder Gonzalo Castro of Bayer Leverkusen England must beware.

Win or lose, Pearce has come through this tournament with flying colours. The former England captain has been an engrossing communicator at press conferences, impressing journalists with his acute analysis of games and tournament issues. Pearce's progress from mediocre Man City coach to being a favourite to succeed Fabio Capello as England coach has been meteoric.

But a second successive failure to bring home the silverware will wound his reputation. England began the tournament as hot favourites with their arsenal of Premier League stars. Tonight in Malmo they have their best chance in years of winning a tournament.

Interestingly, England's two penalty villains of Italia '90 against Germany are in the stadium - Pearce and Chris Waddle, who is working as a radio summariser.

After the fright against Sweden, another shoot-out defeat to the Germans is just too much for Pearce to contemplate.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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