Backed by a blue-and-yellow army in the Czech Republic, comeback kings Sweden provided a real upset as they defeated Portugal on penalties to claim a first U21 title.
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Sweden 0-0 Portugal (aet, Sweden won 4-3 on pens)
Eden Stadium, Prague
Boasting the only 100% record in qualifying, Portugal's latest array of talent – featuring the likes of William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva – travelled to the Czech Republic among the favourites. How close they came to assuming the mantle of European U21 champions from Iberian neighbours Spain, champions in the last two editions but eliminated on this occasion by Serbia in the play-offs. That defeat marked the end of a 35-match unbeaten run.
Rui Jorge's charges, meanwhile, matched their best run in this competition, when a team containing Rui Costa and Luís Figo lost the 1994 decider to Italy, but failed to surpass the feat of that golden generation by missing out on their first U21 trophy in the Prague showpiece. This time, comeback kings Sweden denied them, in the process claiming a hard-earned maiden title thanks to two Patrik Carlgren saves in a penalty shoot-out that took place directly in front of the Blågult's boisterous band of travelling supporters.
Håkan Ericson's side had already shown their mettle by qualifying for the finals in dramatic fashion, overturning a 2-0 first-leg defeat by France in the play-offs. They had only got out of qualifying round Group 7 thanks to captain Oscar Hiljemark's 92nd-minute strike in a 4-3 defeat of Turkey in their last game.
Sweden were then a goal and a man down against Italy in their tournament opener. However, the Group B outsiders struck twice in the second half to secure an unlikely triumph. Portugal also claimed a narrow success on matchday one, beating England 1-0, to rack up their 11th consecutive win in the campaign.
On matchday two the hosts bounced back in style from their opening defeat by Denmark, overwhelming Serbia 4-0 thanks to eventual top scorer Jan Kliment's hat-trick. Meanwhile, substitute Jesse Lingard struck the decisive goal for England against Sweden, the champions' only defeat in the competition. However, Group A rivals Germany reached the summit by inflicting a heaviest ever final tournament defeat on the Danes (3-0).
Jess Thorup responded by naming eight senior internationals on matchday three, as Denmark booked their place in the last four – alongside second-placed Germany – with a 2-0 defeat of Serbia. In Group B, Italy looked to have progressed after a commanding win against England. Sweden appeared set for an early exit but snatched second spot with two minutes to go, Simon Tibbling earning them a 1-1 draw to eliminate both the Azzurrini and England, out at the group stage for the third successive final tournament.
Three days later, Portugal reached the final for the first time in 21 years as five different players found the net to condemn Germany to their heaviest ever reverse in the competition. The other semi-final, a Nordic derby, promised the blue-and-yellow-clad army another Prague encounter as Sweden downed Denmark 4-1 at the Letná Stadium – for once, there were no backs-against-the-wall heroics required.
This meant that Sweden and Portugal, just six days after their Group A draw, met once more in the decider. The game was goalless after 120 minutes, meaning a first final shoot-out since 2002 was needed. Sweden No1 Carlgren was the hero, saving spot kicks from Ricardo Esgaio and William – later named player of the tournament – to secure the Blågult's first official men's UEFA trophy. "It's like a fairy tale and it's incredible," said Ericson.