Germany’s dream of becoming European champions has come true, with Stefan Kuntz’s side beating Portugal 1-0 in Sunday’s U21 EUROs final. It is the third time that Germany have lifted the trophy following triumphs in 2009 and 2017. RSC Anderlecht’s Lukas Nmecha scored the only goal of the game in Ljubljana in the 49th minute, one that also secured him the title of the tournament’s top scorer.
It was the third U21 EUROs final in a row for EURO 96 winner Stefan Kuntz, with his only defeat coming in the narrow 1-0 loss to Spain in 2019. All three games have had just the one goal, with Mitchell Weiser heading in the winner for Germany against Spain back in 2017. Horst Hrubesch was the head coach for the U21s’ first European title, leading a team featuring six eventual 2014 World Cup winners to glory back in 2009.
This Germany side had won the hearts of the fans with their incredible team spirit across the two-part European Championship. After an impressive group phase at the end of March, the ‘DFB-Junioren’ earned their place in the final thanks to a thrilling penalty shootout win over Denmark in the quarterfinals, followed by a solid 2-1 semi-final victory against the Netherlands.
The performance in the final four had obviously satisfied Kuntz, with the head coach choosing to send out the same starting line-up for the final in Ljubljana. The defence had to be on their toes in the opening stages and some important blocks, notably from Amos Pieper in the 13th minute, made sure Finn Dahmen wasn’t required to intervene.
Germany’s attack wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the opening stages. It took until the quarter-of-an-hour mark before the first chance came, and it was the man who scored twice in the semi-finals, Florian Wirtz, who carried the threat once again. Much like in that game against the Netherlands though, the woodwork seemed to be against Germany in the final too, with the Leverkusen youngster’s deflected shot coming back off the crossbar.
Stefan Kuntz’s side started to find their rhythm now, and a ball slipped in behind from Ridle Baku to Lukas Nmecha forced the first save from Diogo Costa, who reacted well to keep the Anderlecht man’s dinked shot out (20’). The Portugal goalkeeper was at his best once again in the 29th minute, tipping a powerful Arne Maier strike bound for the top corner around the post.
The Germany U21s were well on top by now, not least thanks to hard work in midfield from the likes of Niklas Dorsch helping break down a number of Portuguese attacks. One counter did slip through almost on the stroke of half time though. Vitinha danced his way through the defence and had Dahmen at his mercy, only to waste the opportunity with a loose square ball that Germany were able to clear.
Soon after the restart, the ‘DFB-Junioren’ finally got the goal their play deserved. Dorsch won the ball in midfield and fed Baku on the right flank. The Wolfsburg full-back picked his moment to slot a pass through to Nmecha, whose first touch rounded the goalkeeper, allowing him to sneak a shot in at the near post for his fourth goal of the tournament (49’).
Portugal looked to respond and Baku showed his value at the other end too, brilliantly getting ahead of his man to deny what would have been a certain goal from a dangerous cross (60’). The trailing side were pushing harder now, forcing Germany more on to the back foot, and Kuntz responded by bringing on Jonathan Burkardt and Karim Adeyemi for Wirtz and Mergim Berisha in the 68th minute.
19-year-old Adeyemi had a golden chance to all but kill the game soon after his introduction too. The RB Salzburg attacker brilliantly wrestled the ball off the last man and only had to beat Diogo Costa, but again the Portuguese keeper made a big save to keep his side in the game (72’). Two more saves followed, first from a powerful long-range effort from goalscorer Nmecha, before Costa once again denied the fresh legs of Adeyemi.
Four minutes were added on a Portugal tried to make something happen with long balls into the box, but as they had throughout the entire match, Amos Pieper and Nico Schlotterbeck were monstrous in the air and kept the ball out of the danger zone until the referee finally blew his whistle to spark wild celebrations.