I like my football. Most people know that. I particularly like international tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championships, even though so far these have all been enjoyed as a neutral. Maybe Wales will qualify next year: fingers crossed! I’ve had great experiences of these tournaments abroad, from fan parks in Austria to massive screens in South Korea.
Unfortunately these tournaments occur in even years, meaning that this is a relatively fallow footballing summer. I could stay up late and watch the Copa America, South America’s version of the Euros. I could also watch the Women’s World Cup. However, a much better alternative has arrived on my very doorstep!
For those who don’t follow football as ardently as me, international matches also take place across age ranges. The most prestigious matches obviously involve the senior sides, where age is no limit, but these are closely followed in importance by Under-21 teams. A European Under-21 Championship takes places every odd year and this year is being hosted by…you guessed it…the Czech Republic!
Eight of Europe’s brightest young sides are converging on the Czech Republic during the second half of June to fight it out for the crown of European (U-21) champions. Games are taking place in Olomouc (way east), Uherské Hradiste (I had to look it up, it’s that innocuous) and Prague. Some of Prague’s matches are taking place at the relatively new Eden Stadium, which I’d never been to before. As you can see below, the outside of the stadium doubles up as a hotel. I don’t know how much it is to sleep there but with tickets selling for 100Kc (just a squeak over £2.50), it would be silly not to get involved and watch some of football’s finest young talent.
Dark skies greeted us as we entered the stadium just in time to hear the anthems of the two competing nations, Denmark and Germany. The latter are widely seen as favourites for the competition; for this reason, we entered with the view to enthusiastically supporting the Danes. This was until we found our seats…smack bang in the middle of the most vociferous German fans in the stadium, complete with Rudi Voller wigs.
We were also sat in close proximity to the travelling Danish fans. One great thing about this game, which I’m assuming applies to the tournament as a whole, is that security and fear is less apparent than at a senior match. There are negatives to this, shown by the amount of time a pitch invader was allowed to wander around towards the end of the game before being dragged away.
There was no buffer between the two rival fans yet there was never the threat of tempers boiling over, in spite of the hilarious chants being roared by the Danes (singing ‘You only sing when you’re winning’ in English being a particular favourite).
I hadn’t really heard of the Danish players, which contrasted markedly with the young German team. Their goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, played in goal for Barcelona two weeks before in the Champions’ League final. Players from Liverpool and Arsenal were also involved for the Germans. ter Stegen took a bit of stick near the end of the game because he held his nose after a robust Danish challenge. Danish fans roundly booed his every touch for the next 20 minutes, whilst the German contingent simultaneously roared his name.
Denmark actually started the game brightly and had the Germans wobbling for the first quarter. Soon enough, however, the favourites were stamping their authority on the game and struck just after half an hour.
1-0 at halftime became 3-0 within ten minutes of the resumption, a delightfully dispatched free kick being followed by a thumping header. Denmark huffed and puffed, and their fans admirably kept outsinging the Germans, but never looked like scoring.
The match finished 3-0 to Germany. It was an entertaining game to watch, remarkably friendly in its nature (senior sides could learn a thing or two about the lack of arguing about decisions) and taking place in a boisterous, amiable atmosphere. The fact that Germans and Danes were mixing by the end of the game was a reminder that the tribal nature of football should only be temporary.
As for future stars? Germany’s striker, called Kevin Volland, scored twice and looked impressive, whilst their tricky winger Amin Younes constantly dribbled past his hapless marker and delivered teasing crosses. Remember the names!
The tournament is much more compact than most sporting spectacles, with the final occurring next weekend. It was great fun and value to watch some of football’s bright young talents strut their stuff, though I’ll be crossing my fingers that the Germans lose their next game. They’re playing the Czechs, after all…
Love you all