Down to only ten men, the English Under 21 team won the opening game of the UEFA European Under 21 Championship 2008 2-1 (1-1) against Finland. Playing in Halmstad, defenders Lee Cattermole from Wigan Athletic (15th) and Manchester City’s Micah Richards (53rd) scored the goals in England’s win which came despite them being reduced to ten men after Tim Sparv equalised from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute. Defender Michael Mancienne (Chelsea) was shown the red card for a hold similar to ones only allowed in Greco-Roman wrestling that brought down the Finn Berat Sadik (Arminia Bielefeld) before the spot kick.
Finland went into the match with high expectations. It is the first time that a team from the country has appeared at the final stages of a major competition. Playmaker Sparv also enjoyed a home game in the Örjans vall stadium as he plays for the Swedish club Halmstad BK. The northern Europeans started very aggressively but went behind after an early goal. Sparv’s penalty then put them back on level terms. After the break, a corner led to Richards heading the winning goal for the English, who again came under a lot of pressure in the closing stages. They however survived the Finnish final onslaught to seal the win.
Whilst the German Under 21s did far better in their first Group B match in Göteborg than the senior team did in the final of the UEFA European Championship in Vienna where they were defeated 1-0 by Spain, they could still only manage a 0-0 draw. “We wanted to raise a few eyebrows right from the word go. Pity we couldn’t do so even though we had many scoring opportunities,” said Gonzalo Castro. The match had a special meaning for the Leverkusen player as he is of Spanish parentage. “We’ll do better and win against Finland,” announced the midfielder.
The match played in front of an almost capacity 16,700 crowd in the new Gamle Ullevi Stadium in Göteborg, developed into an excellent game of football. Both teams were attack orientated. The Germans were technically on a par with the Spanish who are seen as being exemplary in this part of their game. Werder Bremen’s outstanding Mesut Özil (35th /62nd/80th), Marko Marin from Mönchengladbach (45th +1), Wolfsburg’s Ashkan Dejagah (48th) and the substitute Änis Ben-Hatira (Duisburg / 90th+1) had the best goal scoring chances. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, 19 from Real Valladolid, reacted outstandingly on a number of occasions. The Spanish went close when the Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer blocked a shot from Chico (Almeria) and was happy to see the ball fly narrowly past the goal. The resulting corner (32nd) led to Torrejan (Espanyol Barcelona) powering a header against the bar.