uefa.com's man in Germany for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Tim Dykes, looks back at an enthralling 13 days.
Croatia coach Martin Novoselac bemoans his team's defensive approach on the opening afternoon despite the side shipping three goals in a five-goal thriller against Serbia and Montenegro. German striker Lukas Podolski picks up a groin strain in training ahead of the hosts' Friday fixture before Belarus stun pre-tournament favourites Italy 2-1 in the evening.
FSV Mainz 05 centre forward Benjamin Auer scores on his home ground as Germany thrive without Podolski, beginning their campaign with a 2-1 victory against Switzerland. Portuguese Football Federation president Gilberto Madaíl expresses his dismay on national television after Portugal slump 3-1 against Sweden.
Belarus edge nearer to the semi-finals as they come from behind to share the spoils with Croatia. Suspended Italian captain Daniele Bonera watches Giuseppe Sculli score both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Vladimir Petrovic's Serbia and Montenegro to get his side's campaign back on track.
Sweden striker Johan Elmander reveals his delight as coach Uli Stielike brings nine new faces to the Germany lineup. "It was really surprising to see them change so many players," he says after scoring in the 2-1 victory which secured their place in the last four. Portugal fail to appease Madaíl as they throw away the lead to draw 2-2 with Switzerland in Mainz.
A rest day but the only side in Group A without a win are in high spirits according to Croatia midfield player Marko Babic. "As soon as we are on the coach there is music on and you should see it, someone is making a joke and all will be laughing," he said.
Those smiles fade as Italy edge out the Croatians 1-0 in Bochum to claim a place in the semi-finals despite having a man sent off. There are further dismissals in the Oberhausen match, where Petrovic watches his team put nine-man Belarus to the sword and claim a place in the last four. "After their second red card I knew that we were home and dry," he said.
Sweden maintain their 100 per cent record by defeating Switzerland 3-1 while elsewhere in Group B Germany are on course for a semi-final date with the Italians until Portuguese substitute Lourenço unleashes a blistering 79th-minute strike to send his side through at the hosts' expense.
"Our team reached the limit of its resources today," sighs José Romão after Portugal, shorn of three suspended players, are defeated 3-1 by an Alberto Gilardino-inspired Italy in the semi-finals. Sweden are seconds away from a place in the showpiece themselves until Mario Maric's injury-time equaliser for Serbia and Montenegro forces extra time and penalties. Swedish goalscorer Babis Stefanidis becomes the villain of the piece by being the only one of 12 tense players to see his spot-kick saved.
Carlitos shows the way to Athens for Portugal, scoring in the second period of extra time to pip Sweden to third place with a 3-2 win and secure the Portuguese a berth at the Olympic Games. Attention switches to Bochum where nine-man Serbia and Montenegro lose 3-0 to a rampant Italy in the final. "Not many were betting on us after the loss against Belarus, but we were patient and it paid off," says a delighted, if not a little relieved, Claudio Gentile. "
I'll have a week off now and then begin planning for the Olympics."
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