Friday, June 19, 2009

UEFA u21: Serbia and Belarus share spoils

u21 Sweden 2009.
UEFA u21 Championship: Serbia 0:o Belarus

Malmo - The two East European nations in the finals battled to a scoreless draw in Malmo, leaving all four teams in Group A with a chance of making the semi-finals in the final round of first-games on Tuesday.

The Serbs could yet be the dark horses of the UEFA U21 tournament. They are a quick and muscular team England and the others must deal with before they can celebrate final victory in Sweden, but unless they defeat the hosts in their final game, their championship challenge will be a footnote.

After having tied Italy 0-0 in their opening game, Serbia started with aplomb against Belarus, who came seeking to repair their reputation after their 5-1 drubbing here by the Swedes.

Backed by a few hundred vociferous expats in an otherwise sparsely-attended arena in Malmo, the Serbs looked tougher and meaner competitors than their East-European near neighbours, though it was Belarus who carved out the first chance in the 13th minute when Sergei Krivets’ wickedly dipping effort was tipped over by Serbian goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic.

Two minutes later it was his opposite number Pavel Chesnovski who acrobatically denied the dangerous right-winger Zoran Tosic at his near post. Tosic, signed last summer by Manchester United from FK Partizan, is surely someone we will be seeing more of in the future. The 22 year-old has a low center of gravity, quick close control and enjoys taking defenders on. Do United already have a tailor-made replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo? Watch this space and watch his pace.

The other Serb who caught the eye in the first half was Nikola Petkovic, a formidable left-back with quick distribution, acquired in January by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With both sides needing points the field opened out, Belarus enjoying the space to play their expansive approach, while Serbia hammered away at them on the counter, hoping their physical stamina would count sooner or later.

Belarus came out for the second half confident their languid passing game could prevail after containing their more favoured opponents for the first 45 minutes, but they lacked punch up front. Lone striker Vladimir Yurchenko was frequently off the pace and shirked 50-50 balls. Krivets, their blond attacking midfielder, pulled the strings elegantly but his orchestra stayed out of key.

Still, Sweden's whipping boys were growing in confidence and Leonid Kovel should have hit the target with his drilled finish to a slick attack. Serbia needed fresh ideas so coach Slobodan Krcmarevic swapped Petkovic for attacker Nemanja Tomic in the 64th minute, switching his ace Tosic to the left wing.

Serb defender Nemanja Pecinovic should have scored with ten minutes remaining but skied his effort from close range after Tomic had whipped in a set piece from the right.

Tosic's pace still gave Serbia hope, as well as Chesnovski's nervous handling of anything in the air, but time was running out.

Deep into the five minutes' added-on, Mikhail Sivakov knocked over Gojko Kacar 20 yards out. Tosic stepped up to give the game a fairytale ending but his curling free kick scuffed the top of the net and it was all over.

Tosic must have stayed even longer on the field, looking like he had lost the World Cup for his country with a missed penalty. This young man wears his heart on his sleeve, and he and his colleagues will get a final chance on Tuesday.

The same evening Serbia play Sweden in Malmo, Belarus will tackle Italy, 2-1 conquerors of the hosts today, in Helsingborg.

BEL- Pavel Chevnovski, Nikolai Osipovich, Igor Shitov, Maksim Bordachov, Sergei Krivets, Leonid Kovel, Mikhail Afanasiev (Andrei Chukhlei 69'), Sergei Kislyak (Aleksandr Volodko 82'), Dmitri Verkhovtsov, Vladimir Yurchenko (Anton Putilo 76'), Mikhail Sivakov

SER-Zelijko Brkic, Ljomir Fejsa (Rade Veljovic 82'), Gojko Kacar, Nikola Petkovic (Nemanja Tomic 63'), Milan Smiljanic, Miralem Sulejmani, Zoran Tosic, Nenad Tomovic, Nemanja Pejcinovic, Jagos Vukovic, Marko Milinkovic (Ivan Obradovic 45')

***

Italy inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the host nation in Helsingborg this afternoon, sending them a point clear of Sweden at the top of Group A. Inter's Mario Balotelli played Jekyll & Hyde, scoring before being sent off in the first half. Cagliari's Robert Acquafresca ensured three points with a second-half strike. Ola Voinonen grabbed a late consolation for the Swedes.

After two games each, the teams' points are as follows:

Group A: Italy 4, Sweden 3, Serbia 2, Belarus 1
Group B: England 6, Germany 4, Spain 1, Finland 0

Mon 22nd June - Group B: England v Germany (Halmstad), Finland v Spain (Gothenburg)
Tue 23rd June - Group A: Serbia v Sweden (Malmo), Belarus v Italy (Helsingborg)

Semi-finals Fri 26th June - Winner A v Runner-up B (Helsingborg), Winner B v Runner-up A (Gothenburg)

Final Mon 29th June (Malmo)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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