Monday, June 22, 2009

UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four

UEFA u21 Championship, Group B
UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four.
England 1:1 Germany

Halmstad, Sweden - Germany booked their place in the semi-finals after drawing 1-1 with a second-string England in Halmstad this evening.

When Gonzalo Castro fired Germany into a fourth-minute lead, it looked like Stuart Pearce's weakened team selection would backfire into humiliation, but England fought back and deservedly equalised through Everton's Jack Rodwell on the half hour.

After Rodwell's goal, England had other chances to bag a second, which would have sent Spain, 2-0 conquerors of Finland in Gothenburg, through instead of Germany. But as the minutes wore on in the second half, it seemed as if both teams were content to settle for a draw.

"I expect a big performance and to win," said Stuart Pearce before the game, stressing his personal, painful experiences of losing to Germany as an England player, but his starting eleven showed ten changes to the team which had beaten Spain. Actions speak louder than words.

Inside the charming little riverside ground the Orjans Vall, German fans, chanting obscenely and belligerently, exploded flares and firecrackers before kick-off, one landing not far from England goalkeeper Scott Loach and the others fogging up the field of play. There were no visible police on show. The Swedes had expected everyone to be friends at the u21s but had not anticipated this.

Once the smog had lifted after four minutes, Germany saw clearly enough to snatch the lead in the game. Gonzalo Castro, a 22 year-old Spanish-German attacker from Bayer Leverkusen, outran Michael Mancienne and nutmegged Loach.

Germany had the lead and the psychological advantage. But as the succeeding minutes proved, they were not up to dominating their B-team opponents. Both teams slipped up and sprayed passes wildly. Then England replied.

Andrew Driver, who plays his club football in Scotland for Hearts, was England's most impressive player, driving attacks from his right-wing berth in a highly-impressive debut.

Gardner got his head onto one of his crosses and should have scored after a quarter of an hour before he and Richard Stearman got entangled in the German box five minutes later and failed to get a shot off. Promising stuff after a horrible start.

Just short of the half hour, Gardner curled over a corner from the left and Jack Rodwell, Everton's young find of the season, rose to power his header into the German net.

Panic over, England started to open up and play with more fluency. Germany, up against a B-team and having to avoid defeat, were pinned back and having to play on the counter, though they still posed a threat via Castro's energy and the mesmeric dribbling of Mesut Ozil, their ace in the pack.

But the first half ended with the red shirts of England dominating.

At 1-1, neither side needed to do anything, but any suspicions of a gentlemen's agreement had no wings, though England were clearly experimenting.

Three minutes short of the hour mark, Pearce replaced his lone striker Fraizer Campbell, who had worked well up front, with Theo Walcott, in another enigmatic employment of his star man. His retirement of the penetrative Driver with 20 minutes left for the defensive Kieran Gibbs was a sure sign that winning was not Pearce's top priority tonight.

Germany made their first switch ten minutes later, replacing their ineffective left-winger Anis Ben-Hatira with a zippier performer Marko Marin, a pint-sized midfielder reminiscent at times of Thomas Hassler.

UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four.
As the clock ran down so did each side's enthusiasm for three points, Germany especially knowing only one would do. With Spain leading Finland 2-0 in Gothenburg, an England goal would eliminate the Germans, but by the end they had lost all stomach for a fight.

In the semi-finals, England play the Group A runners-up in Gothenburg on Friday, while Germany play the Group A winners in Helsingborg the same day.

Scoring:

GER - Castro 4'
ENG - Rodwell 29'

ENG-Scott Loach (Joe Lewis 45'), Andrew Taylor, Richard Steadman, Craig Gardner, Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell, James Tomkins, Michael Mancienne, Andrew Driver (Kieran Gibbs 71'), Fraizer Campbell (Theo Walcott 57'), Danny Rose

GER-Manuel Neuer, Andreas Beck, Bendikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Patrick Ebert (Dennis Aogo 85'), Sami Khedira, Ashkan Dejagah, Mesut Ozil, Anis Ben-Hatira (Marko Marin 67'), Gonzalo Castro, Marcel Schmelzer

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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