Spain rallied after a rocky start to the finals to defeat title-holders Germany in the final, and etch their name onto the trophy for a record-equalling fifth time.
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Spain 2-1 Germany
(Fabián 7, Olmo 69, Amiri 88)
Stadio Friuli, Udine
Staged in Italy, the 22nd edition of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals began on 16 June and concluded with the final at Udine's Stadio Friuli on 30 June 2019. Fifty-four teams entered qualifying hoping to book their place at the 12-team final tournament, the first matches being held on 25 March 2017.
Republic of Ireland winger Olamide Shodipo nudged in the first goal of the campaign as the Boys in Green downed debutants Kosovo 1-0 in Dublin. The final play-offs were contested on 20 November 2018, Austria and Poland – spearheaded by 11-goal qualifying top scorer Dawid Kownacki – joining hosts Italy and the nine qualification group winners in securing tickets to the tournament proper.
Poland claimed their first U21 finals win since 1986 in the finals opener against Belgium. Although they fell behind when Aaron Leya Iseka poked in Isaac Mbenza's measured delivery on 16 minutes, Szymon Żurkowski's long-range drive crept in to level the tie ten minutes later. Poland then turned things around with two second-half strikes, and weathered a late Young Devils resurgence inspired by Dion Cools’ conversion.
Italy's 3-1 scalp of Spain launched the campaigns of both the hosts and the eventual champions. Luis de la Fuente’s La Rojita got off to a dream start as Daniel Ceballos' spectacular ninth-minute curler from distance flashed beyond Alex Meret, but Luigi Di Biagio's charges fought back. Federico Chiesa concluded a barnstorming left-sided run by belting in, before steering in a close-range second. Lorenzo Pellegrini added a third, dispatched coolly from the spot.
The title hopes of five-time EURO U21 champions Italy faded, however, with an unlikely defeat by outsiders Poland on matchday two. The Azzurrini failed to muster a reply to Krystian Bielik's first-half volley despite 30 attempts on goal, Pellegrini's 75th-minute thunderbolt into the woodwork summing up the hosts' night. Even with a comfortable subsequent victory over Belgium, it was the end of the road for the hosts; like Spain and Poland, they finished Group A with six points, but the Spanish took top spot on head-to-head goal difference, after beating Poland 5-0 in their final fixture.
Germany (Group B) and Romania (Group C) also came through as section winners, while France – the best runners-up across the three groups – did enough to earn a semi-final meeting with Spain. Jean-Philippe Mateta's 16th-minute penalty gave Les Bleus an early advantage but Spain hit back twice before the break. Then, after Dani Olmo had steered in just after the restart, Borja Mayoral made it 4-1 from Fornals’ delivery.
Meanwhile in Bologna, adidas Golden Boot winner Luca Waldschmidt – seven finals goals including a hat-trick in a 6-1 hammering of Serbia – struck on 90 minutes, his free-kick breaching the Romanian wall to give the Germans a 3-2 lead in the closing stages. Nadiem Amiri then found the net in added time to put Stefan Kuntz's side into the decider – a repeat of the 2017 final, in which Germany had triumphed 1-0.
Spain began the rematch as if they had a score to settle, zipping the ball around with precision and confidence. Player of the Tournament Fabián Ruiz rewarded La Rojita's bright start inside eight minutes, firing past Alexander Nübel from the edge of the area. Spain remained on top as the half progressed, although Germany fashioned half-chances through Levin Öztunali and Jonathan Tah.
Just as they had in the semi-final, Germany – 16 matches unbeaten – emerged from the interval with renewed intent, and yet for all their high pressing they struggled to create real openings. As they chased the game, spaces began to appear on the break and, as Kuntz recalled, Germany were dealt a "psychological blow" when Dani Olmo dinked in Spain's second after Nübel had spilled Fabián Ruiz's effort from distance. Despite Amiri's consolation late on, De la Fuente's "simply brilliant" Spain were crowned U21 champions for the fifth time.