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Denmark 2011 – Day Four Review

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By Stephen Clark

Thursday 16 June 2011

Group B of the UEFA Under-21 Championship remains wide open after the second round of fixtures on Wednesday night left all four teams with a chance of qualification going into their final matches on Sunday. Spain are in pole position after cruising to victory over the Czech Republic in the first of the day’s two matches. After failing to put England away on Sunday, despite dominating possession, the Spanish side were determined not to make the same mistake twice.

However, the Czech Republic did not make life easy for them in the early stages, pressing the Spanish high up the pitch, allowing them no room to start their passing carousel. Spain were beginning to be frustrated also by the strong tackling from the Czech side, and saw both skipper Javi Martinez and Valencia’s Juan Mata both booked for dissent in the same incident following a challenge on Mata. That perceived injustice seemed to inspire Mata, as just seconds later he threaded a delightful ball through the Czech defence for Adrian Lopez to put Spain in front. It was the first time in the entire tournament, including qualifiers, that the Czech Republic had fallen behind, and they never looked like recovering.

The remainder of the match saw Spain pass the ball at will, even if at times they seemed to be doing so for the sake of it rather than trying to produce goal scoring opportunities. Spain got the second goal to clinch the game in the opening minutes of the second half, Mata again threading the ball through the defence for Lopez to double his and Spain’s tally.

The result took Spain to the top of the table before England took to the field for their vital clash against Ukraine. The match was a complete contrast to the measured play of the early game, as both sides went at it hammer and tongs from the off. However, the increase in the pace of the game saw a marked decline in quality and the first half was a disappointing affair.

Ukraine midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka tested Frankie Fielding in the England goal with a 20-yard effort, the Derby keeper pushing the ball into the path of Maxym Biliy, but Ryan Bertrand did well to muscle the Ukrainian off the ball. England offered little, yet still came closest to taking the lead, with Daniel Sturridge crashing a 35-yard effort of the crossbar. The second half saw England start firmly on the front foot and they should have taken the lead on 54 minutes when a Sturridge long ball set Danny Welbeck free on goal. However, Sunday night’s hero shanked his shot wide to let Ukraine off the hook.

The introduction of Scott Sinclair and Henri Lansbury on the hour mark, for the ineffective Jack Rodwell and Danny Rose, saw England take a firm grip on the game, but they were restricted to long range efforts and were unable to break the deadlock. The 0-0 draw saw England stay in third place in the group, and they now need to beat the Czech Republic in their last game on Sunday to qualify for a third consecutive semi-final.

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