It’s do or die now as the UEFA U21 enters its semi-final stage.
Germany tackle the Italians in Helsingborg while a tasty clash is on the menu in Gothenburg, where a sell-out crowd is expected for Sweden v England.
A united Germany has yet to reach the finals while Italy have featured in five of the last nine u21 finals, winning four of them.
Sweden will be hoping to maintain the momentum which saw them win a bruising battle (the referee flashed two red and ten yellow cards) against the highly-rated Serbs 3-1 in their final group game. The crowd in Malmo was almost 20,000, Situs Bandarq raising hopes that the New Gamla Ullevi in Gothenburg, with its 18,800 seats, will be the first venue in the competition to witness a sell -out.
England must beware the telepathic Dutch-based striking duo of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, who have bagged seven goals in three games, but England’s aces look more than capable of eliminating the hosts.
Stuart Pearce witnessed his B-team, with ten changes from the eleven who had beaten Spain, outplay Germany’s first team in Halmstad and fight to a 1-1 finish to qualify as group winners.
“Other than they goal they snatched we had the game in control and were comfortable that whole match,” England right-winger Andrew Driver told Soccerphile. “We came to this tournament with a strong 23 and I think we showed tonight that no-one will disappoint. The boys are very confident. You have to take every game as it comes obviously and take that momentum into the next game but we are brimming with confidence.”
“The team has done really well and we have shown that there is a lot of depth in the squad.” Chelsea’s England centre-back Michael Mancienne told Soccerphile.
Mancienne was sent off in England’s opener against Finland but after serving his one-game suspension and playing 90 minutes against Germany, he is now relishing the showdown with the Swedes.
“The momentum is good and we are looking forward to the game,” he said. “It has been a really good camp for us. All the boys are really close. Having been a great defender, Stuart Pearce gives me a lot of good advice so he has been really great to work under too.
Obviously Sweden are the home nation but they are all tough teams from now on.”
Tosic – I want to fill Ronaldo’s boots
Manchester United’s Serbian u21 star Zoran Tosic has said he will leap at the chance of replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford next season if given the opportunity.
The skilful winger, signed by United from FK Partizan in January’s transfer window, has been wowing the crowds in this summer’s UEFA u21 tournament in Sweden, leading to talk that he might be about to step into Ronaldo’s shoes now the Portuguese star has left for Real Madrid.
“I have read that,” Tosic told Soccerphile. “I came to Manchester United to get better and get stronger in every way and it will be six months in July since I came. In the next six months I hope I am going to get a chance and I have to use that chance.”
22-year-old Tosic debuted for the Red Devils as a substitute for Ronaldo in an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Tottenham on the 24th of January, then made his league bow three days later, replacing Dimitar Berbatov against West Brom, but saw no more first team action in 2008-’09.
Like another flying winger in the U21 tournament, Theo Walcott, Tosic has experience with the National Team, for whom he has clocked up 13 appearances since 2007.
Standing only 5’7” (1.71m), his low centre of gravity makes him a natural dribbler. Add to that his quick feet, rapid acceleration and ability to play on both wings and he seems a potentially tailor-made replacement for Ronaldo, albeit with less prowess in the air.
He is also a free-kick specialist, but was devastated after failing to find the target with his set-piece against Belarus, the last kick of the game. Tosic collapsed crestfallen at the final whistle and did not get up from the ground for a long time.
“I was disappointed because I did not score at the end from a free kick and I am practising them every day, every day!” he explained. “And the only reason I practise is so I can get a chance like that in the 95th minute. In that moment you show the entire world you are a player that can score from just one chance and unfortunately I did not score.”
Serbia exited the competition after losing 3-1 to the hosts in Malmo on Tuesday, after registering successive 0-0s from their first two games against Italy and Belarus. But Tosic’s impressive showings in Sweden have not gone unnoticed and will mean more eyes than before will be focused on the young Serb when United kick off their Premier League defence in August.
“Of course it has been a great experience so far,” he said about playing in England. “It is the strongest league in the world and every player who can play in England can play in every country.
All I know is if I get the chance I am going to use it and do my best – Who knows, maybe some day I am going to pick up Ronaldo’s place!”