Day two of the UEFA Under-21 European Championships proved to be an exciting one, featuring the game of the tournament so far with Netherlands taking on rivals Germany. Here is Will Burns with a rundown of all the happenings.
SPAIN 1-0 RUSSIA
Álvaro Morata of Real Madrid came on a substitute and headed the only goal eight minutes from time to ensure the current Under-21 title holders began with a victory in Group B.
Julen Lopetegui’s title holders found the resilient Russian eleven hard to break down and create chances against. But the Spanish found themselves more frustrated by a combination of their own poor finishing.
Finally, their superiority shone through once Barcelona’s Thiago whipped in a free-kick from the right wing and Morata’s back-header sent the ball flashing past the fingertips of Russian ‘keeper Nikolai Zabolotni.
The Real Madrid forward Morata, a 63rd-minute substitute for Iker Muniain, might have grabbed a late second too, but hit the post with a shot after stretching for the ball.
NETHERLANDS 3-2 GERMANY
After coming back from two goals down, Germany were shocked by a late Leroy Fer header to let the Dutch steal a 3-2 win in a true game of two halves.
The Jong Oranje dominated the first half with great possession football and dazzling flowing attacking passing. The Dutch immediately settled into control inside their own half, and pressed forward early on with the impressive Marco Van Ginkel heading just wide from a Ola John whipping cross.
Cor Pot’s men won corner after corner and looked like scoring everytime they ventured forward. The Germans had barely had a shot on goal when Adam Maher fired a shot through Bernd Leno to put the Netherlands in front on 28 minutes.
The AZ playmaker reacted quickest to meet a swiftly-taken corner and decided to try his luck from just inside the penalty area. Germany were caught napping as a central strike seemed to swerve in the air, deceiving Bernd Leno to bounce beyond the diving keeper into the net. Germany had just enjoyed their best spell of the match, but fall behind to their fierce rivals here in Israel.
Just before half time the Dutch doubled their advantage with a great individual goal from the guy who got twenty goals at PSV last season, Georginio Wijnaldum. The winger cut inside and beat two defenders through sheer pace and power to drive towards the penalty area. His powerful strike from 18 yards looked to have been parried by Leno, but his save could only divert the ball just over the line. It was deserved 2-0 lead given the Dutch dominance in the first period.
Just after the kick-off for the second half, the Germans received a lifeline. Already boosted by the arrival of half-time substitute Kevin Volland of Hoffenheim, Germany won a penalty after a terrible mistake from Feyenoord’s Stefan de Vrij. Volland pressured De Vrij into losing the ball after the defender dwelt on the ball. Volland’s pass released Tottenham Hotspur man Lewis Holtby, who was fouled by the PSV goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet allowing Sebastian Rudy to slot home the resulting penalty.
It was now a chance for Germany to dominate and they nearly levelled soon after the goal with a tremendous chance for the powerhouse Volland. He was desperately unlucky not to get the equaliser as the Hoffenheim striker quickly took advantage of his new role to make a chance out of nothing. He hit a tremendous curling strike from 20 yards had Zoet beaten with ease, but the dipping drive came back off the woodwork before being cleared by a combination of Zoet and De Vrij. Holland were hanging as the match entered the final third, but Pot’s men let themselves down with some terrible defending on 82 minutes.
The German captain Holtby swept his way long the box, with De Vrij failing to cope with the Spurs midfielder and he smashed a shot past the helpless Zoet. De Vrij was doing himself no favours and Pot may change the defence with the next match against Russia in mind.
It was 2-2 and Germany were back on terms and deservedly so with their second half performance, but the goals were not finished.
Substitute Leroy Fer, whom replaced goalscorer Maher, glided into the penalty area late on to grab what proved to be the winning goal. The Germans thought they had escaped as Tony Jantschke blocked Luuk de Jong’s strong strike behind for a yet another corner. From Van Ginkel’s curling corner found Fer, who powerfully sent a header into the back of the net unmarked and under little pressure. With just over a minute of stoppage time left to play at that stage the goal proved to be decisive as the Dutch topped the table from the opening games of the group.
A truly entertaining encounter as Ranier Adrion’s men will now face defending champions Spain on Sunday.
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