Having only escaped the group stage as best runners-up, Germany saved their finest performance of the tournament for Spain in the final to claim only their second U21 EURO title.
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Germany 1-0 Spain (Weiser 40)
Krakow Stadium, Krakow
The competition began on 26 March 2015 when the Republic of Ireland beat Andorra 1-0 in the opening qualifier of the campaign; it ended two years and three months later, in the Krakow final, with victory for Germany against Spain by the same scoreline.
Germany's success, courtesy of Mitchell Weiser's first-half header, came at the conclusion of an enlarged, 12-team final round. It was reward for the best display in Poland by Stefan Kuntz's side, who had qualified in style as the only team with a 100% winning record and yet then finished as runners-up behind Italy in Group C.
That was the consequence of a 1-0 defeat by the Azzurrini in their final group fixture, yet they still advanced as the best of the three second-placed sides. After overcoming England in a semi-final penalty shoot-out, Germany found another level to outplay Spain in the final and earn their second U21 crown.GOLDEN PLAYER: DANI CEBALLOS
Spain, for their part, had qualified less impressively – squeezing past Austria on away goals in a play-off having finished second in their group behind Sweden – yet they lit up the tournament with their attacking football en route to the final. Albert Celades's side won all four games, with Marco Asensio and Saúl Ňíguez, the eventual adidas Golden Boot winner, each scoring a hat-trick along the way – the latter in a 3-1 semi-final triumph over Italy. They also finished with the Player of the Tournament in midfielder Dani Ceballos, but not even his best efforts could spark a comeback against Germany.
Overall, there were 275 matches played in the 2015/17 UEFA European Under-21 Championship – 254 of them in qualifying. Arguably the most impressive feat was achieved by Bladoja Milevski's FYR Macedonia as they secured their nation's first appearance in any final tournament by winning Group C ahead of France and Iceland. Denmark and Italy, for their part, qualified with the best defensive records – conceding only three goals apiece – while the Czech Republic's campaign was lit up by an unsurpassed ten goals from striker Patrick Schick.
When the final tournament began on 16 June, it featured four more teams than in previous editions, meaning competition for a semi-final place was tighter than ever. In Group A, England emerged as the strongest side, securing their progress with a 3-0 win over hosts Poland, who finished with a single point and the wooden spoon. Slovakia, with two victories ended as runners-up, but six points – as was the case for Portugal in Group B – were not enough to make the semi-finals.
In 2015, Rui Jorge's side had won only one group game yet reached the final; now victories over Serbia and FYR Macedonia were not enough as they paid the price for a 3-1 defeat in their middle Group B fixture against Spain.
In Group C, Italy and Germany both took six points – but Luigi Di Biagio's side claimed first place thanks to their aforementioned win over Kuntz's team. With six points already earned, Germany still had a semi-final spot assured thanks to a better goal difference than Slovakia and Portugal – and their best was yet to come.