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Poland end U18 era on high

Poland had not been in an U18 Championship final since losing the inaugural decider in 1981 - but two decades on they went one better.

Wojciech Łobodziński would go on to represent Poland at UEFA EURO 2008
Wojciech Łobodziński would go on to represent Poland at UEFA EURO 2008 ©Getty Images

When Poland qualified for the 2000/01 UEFA European Under-18 Championship, it was the country's first final tournament in nine years while Poland had not reached the final itself since losing the inaugural decider to West Germany in 1981. By the time the tournament ended in Finland, the Poles had won the title in the final edition before the switch to U19 classification.

There was always likely to be a new name on the U18 trophy as of the previous winners only Spain qualified. Holders France finished bottom of a qualifying group containing the Netherlands and Germany, who also missed out, while the Spanish beat Portugal 3-1 on aggregate in their play-off. Ukraine, 2000 runners-up, returned for a second consecutive finals, as did the Czech Republic along with the hosts. Yugoslavia had their first qualification since 1986.

However, Yugoslavia's opening Group A game ended in a 1-0 defeat by the Czech Republic, while Finland drew 1-1 with Ukraine. Yugoslavia recovered to beat Ukraine 2-1, good news from the Czechs who beat the hosts 4-1 having been behind. They celebrated progress to the final with an exciting 3-2 win against Ukraine after trailing 2-0 early in the second half. Records were tumbling in Helsinki, as Yugoslavia defeated Finland 8-4 - the only time a team had scored eight in any U18 finals, and the only match in an U18 finals tournament to total 12 goals. Danko Lazović scored four second-half goals.

Poland's 4-1 win against Spain in their first Group B match set out their stall for the tournament. Belgium beat Denmark 2-0 and then drew 1-1 with Poland as the Danes' campaign ended with a single-goal loss to Spain. The Spanish then defeated Belgium 3-1 with a Jorge Perona hat-trick, and would have been through if Poland failed to defeat Denmark. Although Denmark scored first, Dariusz Zawadzki struck on 12 and 28 minutes, and Mateusz Żytko made it 3-1 before the break. Denmark pulled one back in the second half, but the 3-2 win took Poland into their first U18 final in two decades.

Spain kept up their late goalscoring form in the third-place match, defeating Yugoslavia 6-2 as Perona struck three times again. The final proved exciting too: Łukasz Nawotczyński put Poland ahead on 26 minutes but Filip Trojan levelled late in the first half. Poland had Adrian Napierala sent off for a second bookable offence not long after half-time, but goals in the final minute from Łukasz Madej and Wojciech Łobodziński ensured the ten men were crowned champions.