France and Serbia and Montenegro both advanced to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship after a dramatic finale to Group A on Sunday. France defeated Serbia and Montenegro 2-0 in Braga to confirm top spot in the group and seemingly eliminate Dragomir Okuka's side. But a late Portugal goal against Germany, after the final whistle had blown in Braga, secured second spot for Serbia and Montenegro on goal difference. Goals in each half from Bryan Bergougnoux and Jérémy Toulalan had ensured France completed a hat-trick of Group A victories, but on the night the celebrations would be shared.
Both goalkeepers were called into action early on as the game started at a brisk pace. First Vladimir Stojković dove to his left to block Toulalan's low drive, then Steve Mandanda tipped Nenad Milijaš's shot round the post after the midfielder's one-two with Boško Janković had opened up the French defence. Okuka, needing to win to be sure of joining France in the final four, had stuck with the same eleven that had defeated Portugal on Thursday and they were looking sharp early on. France, in contrast, boasted six changes, but it did not disrupt their rhythm.
Les Bleuets should have gone ahead on 16 minutes when Marko Lomić missed his clearance, allowing Anthony Le Tallec in on goal. The 21-year-old striker, perhaps lacking match sharpness on his return from injury, shot straight at Stojković. Soon after the goalkeeper was forced to save again, this time from Toulalan, a recent Olympique de Lyonnais recruit, as the French midfield began to take command. Toulalan's chipped pass was met by Bergougnoux on 23 minutes but the striker's header looped narrowly over.
Ten minutes later France's possession was made to count. Le Tallec slid the ball into the feet of Yohan Gouffran on the right and the SM Caen forward rolled a low pass across goal that Bergougnoux tapped in at the far post. Lassana Diarra and Toulalan were running the game and though Janković provided the odd bright spark, Okuka's side were struggling to make an impression. Milijaš's free-kick bounced back off the cliff behind Mandanda's goal, and when half-time whistle blew France were comfortably on top.
A snap shot from Le Tallec shortly after the restart suggested France were not content simply to sit back and defend their lead and nine minutes into the second half they struck again with style. François Clerc's long pass sent Yohan Gouffran haring clear down the right. He cut the ball back to Le Tallec who teed up Toulalan to shoot beyond Stojković from the edge of the area. Job done, Toulalan, the only French outfield player to have started all three games, was replaced by Rio Antonio Mavuba to loud applause from an appreciative Braga crowd.
The tempo slowed after the second goal as Serbia and Montenegrin heads dropped. They did threaten on 83 minutes when Mandanda pushed Branislav Ivanović's free-kick on to the post, but that was as close as they came. When the final whistle blew Serbia and Montenegro players thought they had been eliminated, until the news of João Moutinho's late strike in Guimaraes sent them into raptures.
Carlsberg Man of the Match: Lassana Diarra