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Attacking mode prevails in Malta


Attacking mode prevails in Malta

©Domenic Aquilina

Hosts Malta had their moments

Within two matchdays, the goal tally had already surpassed the total for the whole of the previous year's final tournament and, ultimately, practically doubled it.

Even the hosts, faced with the daunting challenge of competing with three former champions at this level, added their vote to the campaign for attacking philosophies. The results pages may record comprehensive defeats for Sergio Sedano's team, but analysis of their games uncovers evidence of fluid, forward-looking play undermined by lapses of concentration at the other end of the field. Malta's campaign could be symbolised by a clip from their second match when, after failing to convert the chance which would have brought the hosts back to 3-4, vulnerability to an immediate Dutch counter put 2-5 on the scoreboard.

That result assured the Dutch of a semi-final place, following on from their opening 3-2 win against Turkey. Hakan Tecimer's team had taken a 1-0 lead through striker Enes Ünal before conceding three times and it was an identical story when they took on John Peacock's England three days later. This time, however, their plight was worsened by the dismissal of screening midfielder Hasan Özkan in the closing minute of the first half – and three second-half goals by a rampant England condemned them to an early exit.

England and Netherlands players embrace after the final

After being held to a 0-0 half-time scoreline by Malta, Turkey hit four after the break to achieve a degree of consolation. At the same time, England and the Dutch were rotating their squads for an encounter between two already-qualified teams. Maarten Stekelenburg's side produced the more solid performance, with a 2-0 victory secured by a long-range strike by defender Calvin Verdonk and a short corner which culminated in Danny van der Moot heading one of the fastest goals ever to have been scored by a substitute.

Group B, on the other hand, went to the wire – but not for the Portuguese, it has to be said. Building on the foundations of the ready-made cohesion between the 11 SL Benfica players in the squad, Emilio Peixe's team defended resolutely and probed constantly amid the Scottish and Swiss defenders in their opening two fixtures. They probed deeply enough to provoke errors which gave them 2-0 and 1-0 victories – and assurance, with a game to spare, of a berth in the semi-finals.

But second place was wide open. Germany had dominated almost two-to-one in terms of goal attempts against the Swiss; had gone 1-0 ahead; had failed to convert a penalty (well saved by Gregor Kobel); and ultimately conceded a 1-1 draw to opponents who played the closing minutes with ten players. It was more of the same against Scotland. Christian Wück's side dominated 21-6 on goal attempts but only three were on target. They were felled by a sucker punch within seconds of the restart, with Scott Wright heading the only goal of the game.

That left Scot Gemmill's youngsters needing only to draw with the Swiss – but this seemed a tall order during a wretched opening spell in which Yves Débonnaire's team scored once and could have added more. Switching to 4-4-2 after the break, Scotland scored three to send the Swiss home and make the result of the Portugal v Germany match irrelevant. In the event, the Germans produced only two on-target attempts and lost 1-0 to a much-changed Portuguese lineup.

©Domenic Aquilina

Dominic Solanke celebrates a goal

Undefeated and with their net unruffled, Portugal produced an impressive first half in their semi-final against an England side which frequently surrendered possession in inopportune moments – and areas. After hitting the woodwork three times, Peixe's pupils were frustrated by a blank half-time scoresheet, while Peacock's half-time talk galvanised his team into action. His decision to deploy Dominic Solanke as the most advanced striker paid off when he controlled a long pass by Taylor Moore with a deft left-footed touch and, with equal skill, flicked the ball right-footed into the net. When Patrick Roberts ended an individual slalom by firing a second in off the far post, England had reaped the reward for the greater control and impetus they had displayed after the break.

The other semi-final was effectively decided when the Dutch scored twice in four minutes before the interval against a Scottish team which fought resolutely against a tide of orange-shirted advances. Three goals in the second half crowned a conclusive victory for a team which belied the age group by displaying uncommon maturity and acumen in all departments of the game. The scene was set for a second contest between England and the Netherlands in the space of six days.