Florian Wirtz scored twice in eight minutes as Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1 to book their place in the European Under-21 Championship final, where they will face Portugal.

Matters went from one extreme to the other for the Netherlands, who beat France in the quarter-finals thanks to a last-gasp goal from Myron Boadu but found themselves behind inside the first minute when Wirtz converted Lukas Nmecha's cross.

Rising Bayer Leverkusen star Wirtz followed up the fastest goal in Euro Under-21 finals history with his second soon after, drilling home from inside the box after good work from Ridle Baku.

Mergim Berisha hit the post with a free-kick as Germany threatened to run away with the semi-final. The Salzburg man cursed his luck twice more on the hour mark, a fierce strike crashing off the post before a header again came off the woodwork seconds later.

Perr Schuurs steered the ball home from close range with 67 minutes played but a comeback never looked too likely as Germany reached a third successive final, equalling the record set by Italy between 1992 and 1996.

They will now meet Portugal, who have won all three of their previous meetings with Germany in this competition, following their 1-0 win over Spain.

The holders had 20 shots to their opponents' six, with Marc Cucurella hitting the woodwork, but they were undone on the break with 10 minutes remaining when Fabio Vieira's delivery struck Jorge Cuenca and looped in.

It was Spain's first Euro Under-21 defeat, including qualifying matches, since 2019.

European Under-21 Championship favourites France were knocked out as the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Germany claimed semi-final spots.

France, boasting a squad littered with senior internationals that included some of the hottest prospects in European football, lost 2-1 to the Netherlands thanks to Myron Boadu's last-gasp goal.

Dayot Upamecano, who will play for Bayern Munich in 2021-22 following his move from RB Leipzig, opened the scoring for Les Bleus, but Boadu equalised early in the second half.

And despite finishing with 14 attempts – six of them on target – France suffered a disappointing exit when Boadu finished on the counter in the 93rd minute, Houssem Aouar having headed a glaring chance over at the other end.

That game was the only one on Monday not to go to extra time.

Two goals from substitute Javier Puado put holders Spain through at the expense of Croatia, who had equalised through Luka Ivanusec's 94th-minute penalty.

Portugal and Italy then played out an eight-goal thriller.

Dany Mota's brilliant double – which included an exceptional overhead kick to break the deadlock – put Portugal into a commanding lead, only for Italy to hit back through Tommaso Pobega.

Goncalo Ramos' goal seemed to have settled the contest, yet Gianluca Scamacca and Patrick Cutrone made it 3-3 at the end of 90 minutes.

However, Matteo Lovato's second booking dented Italy's chances in the first extra period, setting the stage for Jota and Francisco Conceicao to seal a 5-3 win for Portugal, who will face Spain in the last four.

The other tie was settled by penalties, Germany and Denmark having finished level at 2-2 after 120 minutes.

It required sudden death in the spot-kick scenario too, but Victor Kristansen saw his effort saved before Paul Jaeckel made no mistake to seal a 6-5 shootout win, with the Netherlands coming next for the 2019 finalists.

 

Spain and Italy have joined fellow heavyweights Netherlands and Germany in the European Under-21 Championship quarter-finals.

All four sides picked up the results they required in Tuesday's final round of fixtures in Groups A and B to advance through to the knockout stages later this year.

Germany were pushed all the way by Romania in one of the early kick-offs, a goalless draw in Budapest enough to send the 2019 runners-up through on goal difference at Romania's expense.

Romania, now unbeaten in their last seven group matches in the competition, hit the post through Alexandru Matan in the first half and had a shot blocked on the line.

But a point apiece was just about the right outcome in the end as Amos Pieper was also denied by the frame of the goal in the second half and Lukas Nmecha missed a penalty.

The Netherlands had far less trouble seeing off tournament joint-hosts Hungary as they ran out 6-1 winners at MOL Arena Sosto to pip Germany to top spot in Group A by virtue of a superior head-to-head record.

Dani de Wit opened the scoring three minutes before half-time and Cody Gakpo, who set up that goal, scored two of the Netherlands' five second-half goals

Myron Boadu was also on target from the penalty spot for the Netherlands, before Sven Botman and substitute Brian Brobbey got in on the act late on, rendering Bendeguz Bolla's own spot-kick little more than a consolation. 

Holders Spain had a couple of second-half Dani Gomez goals to thank for their 2-0 win over the Czech Republic, who required a victory in Celje to keep their tournament participation alive.

The Levante forward was brought on with 65 minutes played and did not take long to do what his team-mates could not in breaking down a stubborn Czech side after being teed up by Ander Barrenetxea.

Gomez volleyed in a second nine minutes later and that proved enough to seal first place in Group B, despite an emphatic 4-0 win for Italy in their meeting with Slovenia at Stadion Ljudski vrt.

Record five-time winners Italy were two goals ahead inside 19 minutes via clinical finishes from Giulio Maggiore and Giacomo Raspadori, which Patrick Cutrone added to from the penalty spot six minutes later.

Cutrone missed a second spot-kick on the verge of half-time, though it ultimately mattered little as he bagged an impressive second five minutes into the second period.

The only negative for Italy was substitute Riccardo Marchizza's late dismissal after receiving two yellow cards - the centre-back's second sending-off in this year's tournament.

Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands will discover their quarter-final opponents on Wednesday when the final round of group fixtures take place, with the knockout stages to begin in late May.

Spain were made to wait for a place in the quarter-finals of the European Under-21 Championship as they were held to a goalless draw by nine-man Italy after Romania broke Hungary hearts.

Holders Spain had not failed to score in 26 Euro U21 matches, but the holders fired a blank at Stadion Ljudski vrt in Maribor on Saturday.

Italy had Gianluca Scamacca and Nicolo Rovella dismissed for second bookable offences in a dramatic finale, while Spain's Oscar Mingueza was also sent off as tempers flared.

Davide Frattesi's shot was tipped onto the crossbar by Spain goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez in a stalemate that leaves Spain two points clear of Italy and the Czech Republic in Group B.

The Czech Republic needed a late Nik Prelec own goal to secure a 1-1 draw that was a hammer blow to co-hosts Slovenia after Aljosa Matko opened the scoring in the first half.

Spain will be expected to get the job done when they face the Czech Republic on Tuesday, with battling Italy well placed to advance ahead of their encounter with Slovenia.

Romania shattered Hungary's hopes of qualifying by coming from behind to beat the co-hosts 2-1, moving up to second in Group A.

Andras Csonka put Hungary in front after 56 minutes at the Bozsik Arena despite Adrian Szoke's first-half dismissal for two bookable offences, but Alexandru Matan and Alex Pascanu won it late on.

Germany lead the way after Lukas Nmecha salvaged a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, who took the lead through Justin Kluivert at Sostoi Stadion in Szekesfehervar.

The Netherlands are two points adrift of Germany and Romania, who meet on Tuesday when the Dutch take on Hungary.

Spain and Germany eased to 3-0 wins over Slovenia and Hungary respectively in their opening 2021 European Under-21 Championship fixtures on Wednesday.

Holders Spain found Slovenia tough to break down before Javier Puado and Gonzalo Villar struck in the space of 108 seconds early in the second half.

Igor Vekic made eight saves to keep Slovenia in the game, but Juan Miranda added a late third to get Spain's title defence off to a positive start in Maribor.

Germany's clash with Slovenia's fellow co-hosts Hungary panned out in a similar manner, with the 2019 runners-up failing to find a way through until just after the hour mark.

Anderlecht's on-loan Manchester City forward Lukas Nmecha continued his fine form by powering in a header to break Hungary's resolve and Bote Baku, who assisted that goal, added a quickfire double to seal the win.

The other Group A fixture between Romania and the Netherlands finished 1-1 thanks to Andrei Ciobanu's impressive free-kick to cancel out Perr Schuurs' opener.

The Netherlands, competing in this tournament for the first time in eight years, had to hold on towards the end to claim a point against the 2019 semi-finalists in a cagey contest.

Wednesday's other match also finished 1-1, although Italy had two players sent off late on against the Czech Republic.

Gianluca Scamacca opened the scoring with a composed finish after 31 minutes, but the Czechs fought back well and levelled through an unfortunate Giulio Maggiore own goal.

Italy then had Sandro Tonali sent off six minutes from time for kicking out at Ondrej Sasinka, while Riccardo Marchizza followed in added time for a foul on Vaclav Drchal, earning a second yellow card.

The disappointing stalemate for the nine-man Azzurri leaves them two points behind early Group B leaders Spain.

It's entirely possible the staging of the 2021 European Under-21 Championship will have passed many people by, given the fact it's taken on a somewhat peculiar format of a mid-season group stage with the knockout phase following two months later.

Originally due to take place solely in June, organisers were forced into a re-think following last year's postponement of the senior competition. It was decided to split the Under-21s' event in two, therefore avoiding a clash.

Despite the rather unconventional format, the competition will see many of the continent's most-promising prodigies on display.

The tournament, based in Hungary and Slovenia, begins on Wednesday with the Magyars hosting Germany, and we have identified some high-potential talents to keep an eye on.

Alban Lafont, France – Goalkeeper

Lafont has been a regular at this age-group level with France for many years, but a brief stint at Fiorentina in 2018-19 did not go to plan, with the Toulouse youth product freely admitting his performances "were not the best" as he secured to a loan move to Nantes ahead of last season.

Only Andrea Consigli (six) made more than Lafont's four errors leading to shots in Serie A two seasons ago, but his dependability appears to have improved considerably since returning to France, with no shots occurring because of errors by him in 57 Ligue 1 matches.

He also produced a particularly strong performance in the shock 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, making four saves including a couple of eye-catching stops to thwart Angel Di Maria.

 

A closer at Lafont’s performances for a struggling Nantes side in 2020-21 reveals he has not had the greatest campaign. When discounting own goals and penalties by the opposition, Lafont has allowed 3.5 goals more than the ‘average’ goalkeeper would have been expected to concede in Ligue 1 this season (37 conceded, 33.5 xG on target).

The metric ‘Goals Prevented Rate’ can account for different goalkeepers facing a different volume of shots through a period of time. An example of this is that PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas has a goals prevented rate of 1.37 this season, meaning for every non-penalty goal that Navas has conceded (excluding own goals), the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede 1.37. Lafont’s rate of 0.91 this season is 10th out of 17 goalkeepers to have played 1800 minutes of French top-flight football in 2020-21.

 

Additionally, France's regular at this level knows he has a very capable understudy in Illan Meslier breathing down his neck.

Prior to his 21st birthday earlier in the month, Meslier broke the record for the most clean sheets by an under-21 goalkeeper in a single Premier League season (eight) and has since added another to that figure.

That means he has three times as many shutouts as Lafont, which is intriguing because it raises the question of why then has Meslier not conceded fewer goals?

For starters, it suggests Lafont is more consistent but also highlights that when Leeds concede, the floodgates can really burst open. With those 46 goals spread across 19 matches, it means Meslier is conceding on average 2.5 goals per game when he doesn't get a clean sheet – this drops to 1.7 for Lafont.

 

On top of that, Meslier's seven errors leading to shots is more than any other player in the Premier League this term, perhaps showing he's still in the inexperienced, nervous phase that Lafont has seemingly left behind.

Meslier's superior save percentage of 71.1 compared to 65.7 speaks to the former Lorient youngster's shot-stopping abilities, though for the time being Lafont's greater consistency looks set to keep him first-choice.

Sven Botman, Netherlands – Central Defender

A promising loan spell with Heerenveen last season alerted Lille to the talents of Ajax-owned Botman and he has been a real hit for Les Dogues since a reported €8m move, helping them to mount a serious Ligue 1 title challenge.

Lille's 19 goals conceded is the fewest in France's top tier and, while not necessarily entirely down to Botman, there's no doubt he's made his presence known as a reliable powerhouse at the back.

 

Of the 856 players across Europe's top five leagues to have engaged in at least 150 duels, Botman's 71.4 per cent success rate is the best, and that competitiveness is also reflected in his aerial prowess.

Only four of the 157 players in the continent's elite divisions to have been involved in 100+ aerial duels have a better success rate than the Dutch youngster (72.5 per cent).

While his impressive physical attributes might lead to certain assumptions about his style of play, Botman is more than a brutish centre-back, as proven by the fact his 452 ball carries – defined as a player moving five metres or more with the ball – is the fourth highest among Ligue 1 central defenders.

 

Of course, there is likely to be a glaring absence from the senior Dutch side at Euro 2020. with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp not expecting Virgil van Dijk to be ready for the tournament.

That means there is potentially a spot up for grabs in the centre of the Netherlands defence, and Botman's combination of power and elegance suggests he could be a good fit as Van Dijk's deputy.

Granted, the young defender – who hasn't been capped at senior level yet – still has a way to go to match up to the Reds star, but in the context of young defenders of a similar ilk, Botman certainly compares well and his strengths are similar to those of Van Dijk.

His aerial stats prove he's an excellent physical specimen, and his effectiveness in duels reflects the fact he's a difficult defender to beat. A strong showing here might just help convince Frank de Boer that Botman's ready to step up later this year.

Jules Kounde, France – Central Defender

Les Bleus are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in most areas, but the fact Kounde is turning out for the Under-21s in this tournament instead of the senior side exemplifies their depth in quality at the heart of the defence.

In his second full season with Sevilla, Kounde has kicked on following a hugely encouraging second half to 2019-20, so much so that he's arguably the first name on the team sheet for Julen Lopetegui.

 

His forward-thinking nature has made him key to the coach's 'Lavolpiana build-up' defensive structure, a setup attributed to Argentinian coach Ricardo La Volpe that essentially demands centre-backs carry the ball forward from a three-man backline.

Only two central defenders in La Liga have bettered Kounde's rate of 19.2 carries per 90, while there are just three who have covered more distance carrying the ball further up field than the Frenchman this term (2,774 metres).

This positivity is generally offset by Fernando dropping in to form a faux back three, while Kounde's movement up the right can often create overloads as he teams up with Jesus Navas, Sevilla's biggest chance creator (44).

 

But evidence of his progressive mentality doesn't stop there. While possessional stats can often be skewed for centre-backs, given the sheer number of simple short balls played between defensive colleagues, Kounde is clearly looking ahead, and often.

No defender has been successful with more forward passes in open play than Kounde this season in LaLiga (507), with the 22-year-old completing an impressive 79 per cent of these. Therefore, perhaps it's not surprising to learn no Sevilla player has been involved in more shot-ending build-up sequences than he has (53), demonstrating his value to their forays forward, despite not attempting the shots or making the final pass in that move.

Kounde is a prime example of how centre-backs can be just as satisfying to see in possession as your classic playmakers – in fact, that is essentially what he is developing into, a defensive playmaker of the ilk who would have looked at home in the great Barcelona teams of the past 14 years.

Pedro Goncalves, Portugal – Attacking Midfielder

It's fair to say that, when Sporting CP set out to replace Bruno Fernandes, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected what they got. Pedro Goncalves had been a key figure for Famalicao in 2019-20, but to say he's surpassed expectations in Lisbon would be an understatement.

Goncalves operates in similar spaces to Fernandes, albeit drifting towards the right a little more, and his hot streak in front of goal has helped put Sporting on course for a first league title since 2001-02.

 

In 22 Primeira Liga matches, the attacking midfielder has scored 15 goals – none of which were penalties. The 22-year-old's xG total is just 6.9, meaning his over-performance of 8.1 is the biggest across Europe's top six leagues, aside from the phenomenal Robert Lewandowski (9.3).

Of course, the chances of him being able to sustain such a run in the long-term are low, but it still highlights what a danger the former Wolves youngster poses in his current form.

 

Comparisons with Fernandes have been rife, for obvious reasons, but they show many different traits to their game.

In Fernandes' final 50 league games for Sporting, he averaged 3.4 shots per 90 minutes and 2.3 of those non-penalty shots came from outside the box – Goncalves attempts 2.6 on average each game, with only 1.1 coming from beyond the penalty area.

As such, the average quality of Fernandes' shots in his final 50 games for Sporting weren't outstanding, with his xG per non-penalty shot equating to 0.07. Goncalves' is almost double that at 0.13, suggesting he picks his moments more selectively while also taking fewer attempts.

Nevertheless, despite Fernandes' penchant for a long-range effort, he only scored four times from outside the box in his final 50 league matches for Sporting – Goncalves already has three this term from 28 fewer games.

 

The biggest difference between the pair is assists. Fernandes' 20 in his final 50 outings for Sporting dwarfs Goncalves' three in 2020-21, but interestingly their expected assists per 90 minutes isn't hugely dissimilar. Fernandes is ahead 0.29 to 0.20 in this area, but a potential explanation for this potentially lies in the respective teams they've played in.

 

The next highest-scorer for Sporting this season after Goncalves himself is Nuno Santos with six – they don't have a prolific centre-forward, whereas Fernandes was supplying Bas Dost, who netted 76 times in 84 league games for the club between 2016 and 2019.

As we all know now, Fernandes was on the trajectory of an elite-level player. He's proven this at Manchester United, though there were certainly those who were sceptical about him prior to his move.

It'll be a tough ask, but why can't Goncalves continue to defy expectations?

Fedor Chalov, Russia - Forward

Russian striker Fedor Chalov is undoubtedly one of the most experienced players involved at the tournament, with the 22-year-old having already played 115 Russian Premier League matches in addition to his 11 UEFA Champions League appearances.

Chalov burst on to the scene in Russia with CSKA Moscow at 18 years old back in November 2016 and scored in just his fifth top-flight appearance for the club versus Ural a month later.

After scoring six goals in each of his opening two league seasons at CSKA, 2018-19 was when he really began to make a name for himself in Russia - winning the league's top scorer award with 15 goals, while also posting his best-ever season tally for assists (7).

But Chalov's career hasn't kicked on as expected since then, scoring just 13 goals in 50 top-flight appearances over the past two seasons, but his performances have been stirring enough to attract the attentions of multiple Premier League clubs during the January transfer window.

 

Despite this, Chalov's numbers domestically at top-tier level are mightily impressive for a player so early in his career. Despite only being 22, Chalov's tally of 60 goal involvements since his Russian Premier League debut are the third most by a player in the competition.

Russia are certainly one of the underdogs for the 2021 Under-21 European Championship and are unlikely to top their group, having been drawn alongside favourites France. However, if Chalov can find form in the first stage of the tournament then he could be the linchpin to Russian hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages in May.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.