Serbia survive Belgium pressure to progress

Belgium 1-1 Serbia
Andrej Mrkela's early goal helped Serbia finish second in Group B, although they had to endure a tense finale after Marnick Vermijl equalised.

Serbia's Andrej Mrkela celebrates opening the scoring against Belgium
Serbia's Andrej Mrkela celebrates opening the scoring against Belgium ©Sportsfile

Serbia survived some severe second-half pressure from Belgium to claim the point that secured second place in Group B and took them into the UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-finals.

Needing just a draw to progress, Serbia started strongly and gained an early lead thanks to Andrej Mrkela's fine shot, but were steadily pressed back by a determined Belgium side who drew level through Marnick Vermijl with 17 minutes left. Another Belgian goal would have taken Turkey through at Serbia's expense, but the 2009 semi-finalists held firm to set up a last-four meeting with the Czech Republic on Friday.

Having begun the finals with an impressive win against Turkey, Dejan Govedarica's side were overwhelmed by Spain on Matchday 2, so their hopes received a welcome fillip after only six minutes in Buftea. Mrkela made his side's first real attack count in spectacular fashion, unleashing a thunderous left-foot shot from distance that left Thomas Kaminski clutching at air as it flew into the top corner.

The Belgium goalkeeper had more luck midway through the opening period, producing a good save to keep out Darko Brašanac's header from a right-wing Djordje Despotović cross. Marc Van Geersom's side were struggling to penetrate the Serbian rearguard, Maxime Lestienne sending Belgium's best first-half opening wide.

They emerged after half-time with renewed purpose, though, and within 90 seconds Thorgan Hazard cut in from the left to bring a smart stop from Nikola Perić, keeper getting up swiftly to touch the loose ball away from the lurking Lestienne.

The No9 went close again on the hour, turning Vermijl's superb low cross narrowly wide at full stretch as Belgium began to press with increasing urgency. Their reward finally came when Paul-José Mpoku's clever reverse pass set Lestienne away down the left, Vermijl bundling in his low cross. That set up a frantic finale, Nikola Trujić shooting too high at one end before Perić blocked from Jannes Van Steenkiste at the other, but Serbia held out to reach their third U19 semi-final.