In time-honoured fashion, England Under-21s bowed out of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship on penalties in their semi-final against Germany Under-21s.
David Selke’s header put Germany ahead in the first half, only for Demarai Gray to quickly equalise. England took the lead early in the second half through Tammy Abraham, but once Felix Platte brought Germany level they were in control.
They couldn’t find a winner in either 90 nor 120 minutes though, but Julian Pollersbeck saved penalties from Abraham and Nathan Redmond to send them through to the final.
Germany lose Stark in the warm-up
Despite only qualifying as the best second-placed side from the group stage, Germany were the favourites for this semi-final. They had won their first two games in Group C before losing to Italy on Saturday night. England on the other were unbeaten, winning against Slovakia and Poland after a goalless draw with previous winners Sweden.
England made two changes from the win over Poland, with Will Hughes and Abraham in for John Swift and Nathan Redmond, who despite being an injury doubt was fit from the bench. Another doubt, Nathaniel Chalobah, was available from the start.
Germany made three changes, their first of the competition, after their 1-0 loss to Italy. Mahmoud Dahoud and Mitchell Weiser were replaced by Janik Haberer and Maximilian Philipp. Niklas Stark pulled up in the warm-up, so Gideon Jung was drafted in as well.
This was their first meeting in this competition since a Germany squad full of future FIFA World Cup winners won the 2009 final 4-0. Germany also won the most recent meeting, with a 1-0 victory in a friendly in March.
Set piece defending hurts Germany after Selke goal
Although Calum Chambers could have conceded an early penalty, England had a much better start, as Jung was required early on to intercept a dangerous Hughes cross aimed at Abraham, whilst two corners were poorly defended and headed over by Chalobah. Pollersbeck than had to stretch out a hand to keep out Gray’s shot, after good build-up play. Jung dealt with a loose ball, but some referees might have penalised him for taking a bit of Hughes as well.
James Ward-Prowse’s set piece deliveries continued to cause Germany problems, with a free-kick then headed at Pollersbeck by Abraham. Germany were growing into the game though, with Serge Gnabry heading wide a clever ball from Maximilian Arnold, whilst Jordan Pickford saved a first-time shot from Selke.
Germany were starting to rattle up the chances, with most coming down the right side. Max Meyer and Philipp both missed good chances, whilst Picked had to scramble to keep out Jeremy Toljan’s effort. The goal was no surprise when it came, with Meyer and Toljan combining on the right and the latter crossing to an unmarked Selke who headed it home emphatically.
They were well on top but their poor defending of set pieces would cost them the lead soon after. It was England skipper Ward-Prowse again with the corner, with Chambers given not one but two goes with the ball. The loose ball fell to Gray in space, and he fired in on the half volley.
England take lead before Germany dominate
It took just five minutes of the second half for England to complete to turnaround. Gnabry was guilty of giving the ball away to Mason Holgate, with Hughes then weaving his way into the box and setting up Abraham for the finish.
Needless to say, that left Germany needing to search for an equaliser. Pickford saved an effort from Yannick Gerhardt before Toljan should have put an undealt-with cross in at the far post. Even when down to ten men due to an injury to Selke (who would have to be replaced), Gnabry went just over from in behind.
Selke’s replacement Platte, having not played in this tournament until coming on, would be the man to bring them level. This time it was England’s turn to be exposed from a set piece, with Arnold picking out the first German man in Platte, whose marker Holgate did little to set him getting his header in.
Germany were prowling now with England running out of steam. Philipp forced Pickford to tip his effort from outside the box over the bar, before Platte thought he had scored again. Meyer set up his header, however, the goal was disallowed with just his arm putting him ahead of the last defender. Gnabry and Marc-Oliver Kempf went wide in the latter stages as the game slipped into extra time.
Germany beat England on penalties, again
The first half of the extra 30 minutes was virtually all Germany. England had a lucky escape in the first minute, as Pickford pushed a Toljan cross straight into the path of Amiri, with the deflection off him close enough for Pickford to clean up. Further chances came but they couldn’t take any of them.
England had only a half chance for Nathan Baker to show for the first 15 minutes, but they should a little more intent after the turnaround. After substitute Swift headed wide, a Ward-Prowse free-kick from some way out caught out Pollersbeck, but Chambers couldn’t direct his header on target.
Moments after Abraham couldn’t quite connect with a ball into the box, Toljan set up what could have been the winner for Germany, but Amiri completely missed the shot. Even Germany were running on empty now, and whilst both sides pushed to the last, penalties were inevitable.
After both teams scored their first spot kicks, Pickford saved Germany’s second from Gerhardt, only for Pollersbeck to keep things level by taking a poor Abraham penalty. The next five all went in, however, Pollersbeck saved the decisive kick from Redmond as history repeated itself yet again.