Germany are the champions of Europe… at the under-21 level. Germany defeated Portugal 1-0 in the final on Sunday evening to claim their third ever under-21 European Championship, bringing even more hope that this could be Deutschland’s year at Euro 2020 proper.
After a drawn-out tournament played over the course of four months, Germany have come out on top. The German side didn’t begin the tournament the way they would’ve liked, only beating out Romania on goal difference to qualify from their group. It then took a penalty shoot-out to slip past Denmark in the quarter-finals. It was in the semis where the German side came alive. A brilliant team goal finished off by Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz less than a minute into the match helped Germany to a convincing victory over their rivals the Netherlands.
In the final, Portugal had the better chances early on with Diogo Dalot and Tiago Tomás both hitting shots wide of the woodwork. Germany created their first real opportunity fifteen minutes in, as Florian Wirtz‘s shot deflected onto the crossbar. It was a very open first half with Portugal setting the tempo but the Germans growing into the game as the half went on. Both sides were looking to advance up the pitch using their respective right-backs in Dalot for Portugal and Ridle Baku for Germany. Baku, who provided the assist for his team’s second goal in the semi-final, was instrumental yet again in the final. He created an outstanding opportunity halfway through the first period, making a nice run and poking the ball to Mergim Berisha, whose chipped effort was stopped by Diogo Costa in the Portuguese goal. At the end of the first half Portugal had their best chance of the match after a quick counterattack. Vitinha had so much time (maybe too much time) to have a shot on goal from six yards out, but did not pull the trigger and ended up attempting to square a pass to his teammate instead.
Although Die Mannschaft couldn’t find the back of the net in the first half, it didn’t take long in the second half for them to grab the go-ahead goal. Baku found space down the right flank to retrieve a pass and threaded a perfect pass into the path of Lukas Nmecha, who took it around the keeper with a neat first touch, before burying it into the net. Germany were able to see out the rest of the match quite comfortably, continuing to win the midfield battles and staying very organized at the back to extinguish potential Portuguese attacks. Portugal’s best opportunity to equalize was actually a strike from the halfway line when Germany’s keeper Finn Dahmen had to be at full stretch to avoid being caught off his line. As Portugal committed more bodies forward in search of a goal, Germany found some good chances on the counter, but were unable kill the game with a second goal. In the end they didn’t need to, and held on for the clean-sheet.
Baku was rightly given the Man of the Match award for his assist and overall outstanding performance. He finished the tournament with 2 goals, 3 assists, and two Man of the Match awards, as his stock continues to rise after an impressive Bundesliga campaign with Wolfsburg. With this victory, Germany have now won two of the past three under-21 European championships, making it to the final in all three. The future looks bright for German football, and fans of Die Mannschaft will be waiting anxiously to see players like Baku and Wirtz get their chance with the senior side after the Euros this summer.