After the opening group games of the UEFA European Under-21 Championships, tipping the eventual winner may prove to be a difficult task. During a tournament short of real quality to date, no team has won a match by more than a one goal margin and pre-tournament favourites Germany and England both failed to win their first game, with the English team losing 1-0 to an impressive Portugal outfit in arguably one the better contests of the past week.
The German team were expected to follow the senior team’s performance in winning the 2014 World Cup by claiming the European under-21 crown, but they displayed few ideas in attack and were perhaps fortunate to earn a 1-1 draw against an industrious Serbian team which may yet surprise a few people after eliminating Spain in the playoffs prior to this tournament.
In the other Group A match, Denmark recovered from a very poor first half performance to beat hosts Czech Republic by a 2-1 scoreline and displayed sufficient invention in attack during the second period to suggest that they could emerge as serious challengers to claim the trophy. Their game with Germany on Saturday evening will be intriguing should they not be overawed by their much-vaunted opponents.
In Group B, the two most likely qualifiers for the semi-finals would appear to be Portugal and England based on the evidence of the two games to date. The Italy versus Sweden contest lacked quality throughout the game in a match of few chances, with the Swedes playing for an hour of the game with 10 players but eventually winning 2-1. Sweden appeared the more determined of the two teams while the Italians lacked the guile and effort required to take advantage of their numerical superiority. Italy may regret that opportunity now that they face Portugal and England in their remaining matches.
England could be considered unfortunate to lose their opening game as they created several chances with Harry Kane and Nathan Redmond lively in attack but they were dealt a blow by the injury withdrawal of Saido Berahino on the eve of the game. He will miss the remainder of the tournament but England showed that they could be capable of beating both Sweden and Italy.
Yet Portugal demonstrated that they possess sufficient general quality to be considered candidates to win the competition. Monaco’s Bernardo Silva was constant threat in attack against England with Sergio Oliveira and Ivan Cavaleiro also producing impressive displays in a team which rarely surrendered possession cheaply.
Portugal won each of their qualifying games and will be a difficult team to beat in a tournament which has yet to produce a real dominant performance by any of the eight outfits involved. Now that the opening games are completed, there may be more quality on offer as the players settle into the competition and nerves become less of an issue.