Lukas Nmecha scored the trophy-winning goal as Germany beat Portugal 1-0 in the European Under-21 Championship final. 

The Manchester City striker, who spent the 2020-21 campaign on loan at Belgian side Anderlecht, scored early in the second half to ensure Germany claimed the trophy for the third time, following 2009 and 2017 triumphs.

It made Nmecha the outright top scorer in the tournament with four goals.

Portugal, who carved out just one shot on target in Ljubljana, have now finished as runners-up in the competition on three occasions.

Tiago Tomas flashed an effort wide early on, while Manchester United defender Diogo Dalot twice went close inside the opening 15 minutes as Portugal started brightly.

Florian Wirtz, who scored twice in the semi-final win over the Netherlands, went agonisingly close to handing Germany the lead after 15 minutes when his deflected effort from outside the penalty area crashed back off the underside of the crossbar.

Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa was called into action soon after to deny Nmecha and Arne Maier as Germany found their footing in the game.

Germany then deservedly went ahead in the 49th minute when Nmecha latched onto Ridle Baku's superb pass, rounded Costa and rolled into an empty net.

Substitute Karim Adeyemi squandered a golden opportunity to double Germany's advantage 18 minutes from full-time, firing straight at Costa after picking Dalot's pocket, before the Portugal goalkeeper kept out Nmecha's powerful drive from distance.

Adeyemi was denied again by the excellent Costa late on, but it mattered little in the end as Stefan Kuntz's side saw the game out with the minimum of fuss to spark jubilant scenes.

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.

 

Croatia ended England's European Under-21 Championship campaign in dramatic fashion as they joined Denmark, France and Portugal in qualifying for the quarter-finals.

Portugal finished top of Group D with a 100 per cent record, a convincing 3-0 result against Switzerland making it three wins from three during their campaign in Slovenia.

Diogo Queiros gave his country a third-minute lead and while the Swiss pushed hard for a response, they conceded twice in the space of five second-half minutes to end their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.

Barcelona forward Francisco Trincao doubled the advantage for Portugal, who then quickly put the game out of reach thanks to Francisco Conceicao.

England also appeared set to progress when leading 2-0 as their game with Croatia entered added time in Koper on Wednesday.

Following Eberechi Eze's early penalty, Curtis Jones produced a crisp low finish in the 74th minute to leave England on course for just the result they needed to wrap up second place.

However, Domagoj Bradaric changed the scenario completely – and in some style, too. His left-footed drive from long range gave goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale no chance and meant England had little time to respond. Instead of ending up in second, the result means they finish bottom of the table.

Group C did not quite provide the same level of drama, Denmark sealing top spot as they eased to a 3-0 victory against Russia, meaning they finish on nine points.

Jacob Bruun Larsen and Anders Dreyer were on target in successive first-half minutes, while Carlo Holse rounded out the scoring in the closing stages for Denmark, who did not concede during the round-robin stage.

France, meanwhile, were 2-0 winners against Iceland thanks to first-half goals from Matteo Guendouzi and Odsonne Edouard.

Les Bleus will meet Netherlands in the knockout phase when the tournament resumes at the end of May, while Denmark will go up against Germany.

Spain are due to face Croatia and Portugal will tussle with Italy in the other side of the quarter-final draw.

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.

France got off the mark at the European Under-21 Championship with a 2-0 win over Russia, while a second successive loss for England leaves them on the brink of elimination.

Les Bleuets went down 1-0 to Denmark in their tournament opener but responded with a routine win in Szombathely on Sunday through a pair of first-half penalties.

Odsonne Edouard won and converted the first of the spot-kicks after 15 minutes and Jonathan Ikone added a second from 12 yards with a precise Panenka.

Defeat for France would have knocked them out of the competition, but some good goalkeeping from Alban Lafont kept their two-goal margin intact and they live to fight on.

England's hopes of progressing to the semi-finals later this year were dealt another huge blow, however, as they suffered a 2-0 defeat against Portugal in Ljubljana.

Aidy Boothroyd's side, who lost 1-0 to Switzerland in their opener, failed to muster a single shot on target versus Portugal and now require a helping hand in the final set of games.

A goal-line clearance from Ben Godfrey denied Portugal an early breakthrough, but their persistence paid off as they found the net for the 30th U21 Euros match running.

Dani Carvalho rounded off a counter with a low curler away from Aaron Ramsdale into the bottom corner and substitute Francisco Trincao converted a penalty 10 minutes later.

England now need to beat Croatia, who edged out Switzerland 3-2 earlier on Sunday, in their next match and hope Portugal beat the Swiss in Wednesday's other group clash.

Croatia were made to work hard for their victory at SRC Bonifika - their first ever in the competition - after seeing their three-goal lead reduced to just one in a thrilling contest.

Luka Ivanusec opened the scoring early on against the run of play and they were cruising when Nikola Moro and Dario Vizinger added quickfire goals shortly after the hour mark - the former from the penalty spot.

But there was to be some late drama as substitute Kastriot Imeri scored from the penalty spot and Sandro Kulenovic put into his own net.

Switzerland nearly snatched an incredible comeback point, only for Dominik Kotarski to deny Alexandre Jankewitz with a big save in added time.

Denmark were 2-0 winners against Iceland in Sunday's early kick-off, meanwhile, thanks to goals from Gustav Isaksen and Mads Bech in the first 18 minutes.

Oliver Christensen kept out a Sveinn Aron Gudjohnsen penalty before half-time and Iceland failed to put up much of a fight from that point on.

The Danes are three points clear of France and Wednesday's opponents Russia, while Iceland are without a point but could still advance if results go their way next week.

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.

England and France suffered 1-0 defeats to Switzerland and Denmark respectively in their opening 2021 European Under-21 Championship fixtures on Thursday.

Switzerland were appearing at the tournament for a first time in a decade and edged a narrow win in Group D thanks to Dan Ndoye's fortuitous second-half strike.

England have failed to make it past the group stage in four of the past five tournaments and have left themselves with an uphill struggle to secure one of the two spots for the knockout phase.

Aidy Boothroyd's side created precious few goalscoring opportunities with a long-range attempt from Tom Davies and Callum Hudson-Odoi's free-kick their best attempts, only once hitting the target.

Ndoye sealed the win for Switzerland 13 minutes from time as the ball rebounded off his standing foot then looped over England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Elsewhere in that pool, Portugal earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Croatia after substitute Fabio Viera scored the only goal of the game.

Portugal had the best of the chances with Croatia goalkeeper Adrian Semper forced to make three saves before Viera came off the bench to net the winner.

France, who reached the semi-finals of the 2019 tournament, were left to rue missed chances in their defeat to Denmark as Amine Gouiri was twice denied and Boubacar Kamara curled wide.

Denmark had just 34.3 per cent of the possession and only three shots but crucially scored in the 75th minute when Anders Dreyer rounded Alban Lafont before scoring following a superb defence-splitting pass from Jacob Bruun Larsen.

Russia top Group C, though, after an emphatic 4-1 win over Iceland that included an impressive display by 17-year-old debutant Arsen Zakharyan.

Fedor Chalov, who finished with three assists from four chances created, opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Zakharyan had been tripped.

Nayair Tiknizyan notched Russia's second and then Zakharyan scored the pick of the goals with a fine sole strike on the stroke of half-time before Denis Makarov added the fourth with a low finish.

Sveinn Aron Gudjohnsen, son of ex-Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur, headed in a consolation goal for Iceland with only their second attempt just before the hour mark.

England's best hopes for a trophy in 2021 might just be their Under-21 squad.

Aidy Boothroyd's youngsters head into the group stage of the Euro Under-21 finals as legitimate contenders for the trophy, despite being placed in a seriously tough group with Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland.

History is against England, too. They have reached the finals for eight consecutive tournaments but have only progressed from the group stages three times in that sequence. Since winning the trophy in 1984, they have reached the final only once, in 2009, where they lost to Germany.

Still, Boothroyd is undoubtedly blessed with a rich pool of talent, despite leaving out stars such as Phil Foden, Reece James and Jude Bellingham, who will all be involved in the senior side's World Cup qualifiers this month. There is a strength in depth to the Young Lions that should give them real hope of going all the way.

Perhaps the current crop can also buck the trend when it comes to breaking into the senior fold. Only 17 of the 48 players from the previous two Euro Under-21 squads have gone on to play for the full England side, and only Jordan Pickford could consider himself a regular there.

In short, this undoubtedly talented group has plenty to play for…

 

Max-imum opportunity

In front of keeper Aaron Ramsdale, who was in goal for all but one of their qualifiers, sits an encouraging defence.

Norwich City full-back Max Aarons has not only kept 15 clean sheets with the Championship leaders, but his attacking threat has been marked this season. Aarons has created 51 chances from open play and completed 52 dribbles, both the second-best figures among defenders in the competition. At the same time, Aarons has only been beaten by an opponent's dribble 13 times, the lowest number among the top nine of that particular group of attack-minded defenders. Little wonder he is a reported target for Bayern Munich and Everton, among others.

Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham is untested at this level but Jose Mourinho's young protege will not have far to look for a (relatively) experienced guide. Spurs' Ryan Sessegnon, one of just two England players who also played at the 2019 finals, has enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Hoffenheim this season, winning more tackles per 90 minutes (1.7) than anyone else for the Bundesliga side. He has also contributed two goals and two assists – only five Bundesliga defenders have had more direct goal involvements.

There's Rowe stopping him

Arguably England's most in-form young midfielder outside the senior squad has amazingly never played before for the Under-21s.

Emile Smith Rowe has been the big success story of Mikel Arteta's time in charge of Arsenal. Since the start of last season, as well as scoring twice and registering six assists, he has created 1.5 chances from open play per 90 minutes in all competitions, the best number among Gunners midfielders to start at least 10 matches in that time.

 

In 2020-21, Smith Rowe (nine) is second only to Mason Mount (14) for players 23 and under in the Premier League when it comes to multi-chance involvements – the number of unique shot-ending sequences in open play where a player both creates the chance and is involved in the build-up.

Exactly how Boothroyd deploys Smith Rowe remains to be seen, but he could offer a potent combination with rising Liverpool star Curtis Jones, a major plus in an otherwise troubled Premier League title defence for Jurgen Klopp.

Jones, the youngest Liverpool player to score in the Premier League away from Anfield in seven years, averages the most successful final-third passes (22.5) this season of any Reds player to feature in at least half of their league games.

Among Premier League midfielders in this age group this season, only Mount (nine) has been involved in more sequences that ended in them taking a shot at goal than Jones (seven) – and the Liverpool man has played fewer than half the minutes of the Chelsea star.

On the wings, Callum Hudson-Odoi might have experience of playing for England at the highest level, but a strong performance at these championships could be just what he needs as he begins to build up the trust of Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel. Since the German took charge on January 26, no Blues player has played more games (13) than Hudson-Odoi and only two have created more chances per 90 minutes (1.71). His directness down the wing could be a major asset: among players 23 or under in the Premier League, only Ferran Torres (0.59) has a better rating than Hudson-Odoi (0.55) when it comes to Expected Assists from a take-on.

Madueke's chance to shine

With Mason Greenwood having withdrawn due to injury, much of the goalscoring burden may fall on the Under-21s' all-time top marksman, Eddie Nketiah.

 

Arsenal's young striker has one goal in three league starts this season and three in six in the Europa League, but the international stage is where he really shines: 13 goals in nine qualifying games helped him become the Young Lions' record goalscorer, surpassing Alan Shearer.

If Nketiah should struggle for form, Boothroyd can turn to Noni Madueke. An unknown at this level on the international scene, Ruud van Nistelrooy's PSV pupil has 11 direct goal involvements in the Eredivisie this season – no teenager has more – with his seven goals coming in just six starts in the Dutch top flight, at an average of just over one for every four non-penalty shots.

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.

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