UEFA Under-21 European Championships - final day preview
The UEFA Under-21 Championships reach a climax on Saturday as hot favourites Spain face Switzerland in the final to be played in Aarhus. The Spanish will be looking for a third title at this level and to maintain the nation’s incredible recent run of success. For Switzerland the match offers the opportunity for a first ever title for the Alpine nation.
Spain have been the bookies tip since the tournament started, and after breezing through the group stage were expected to beat Belarus in the semi-final with the minimum of fuss. However, a massive shock was on the cards until Spain were finally rewarded for their dominance, and patience, with an 89th minute equaliser from Adrian Lopez set up a 3-1 victory after extra-time. Having survived such a scare, Spain will be hoping for a much easier passage against the Swiss in the final, but the underdogs will be no pushovers.
Switzerland had a 100% record in the group stages, beating the hosts Denmark, Iceland and Belarus before a hard fought victory over the Czech Republic in the semi-final, where Admir Mehmedi’s 114th minute winner finally broke Czech resistance. Switzerland’s star has been Xheden Shaqiri and he believes that the Swiss have nothing to fear telling UEFA.com: “Why shouldn't we do it? We have a very good team. We have the potential to beat Spain. We're not favourites, so we can play freely in the final. It's an important thing for us to be in the final. It's a great opportunity. I think the whole of Switzerland is looking forward to this game. We want to write a fairy tale."
In most tournaments the third and fourth place play-off is of very little significance, but there is an added reward, other than a bronze medal, for the side who win the game in Aalborg on Saturday. The third place finishers have the added reward of claiming the final place available to European side’s in next summer’s Olympic Games in London. It’s a reward that is highly valued, as the Czech Republic full back Ondrej Celustka told UEFA.com: “Our aim hasn't changed: we'd still like to go to the Olympics. We'll do everything to do that on Saturday. It doesn't matter that we'll be playing just for third position.”
For Belarus, the question will be as to if they will be able to recover from the heartbreak of their semi-final defeat, both physically, after the exertions of extra-time, and mentally, a fact not lost on the team’s captain Mikhail Sivakov who told UEFA.com after the match: “It would have been better if they had scored in the first half or after an hour, but not one minute from time. That's what hurts the most, maybe we just lacked a bit of a concentration, maybe we weren't strong enough. Right now I feel depressed, so it's hard for me to find the right words."