We have definitely been here before. Southampton’s Nathan Redmond joined the long list of England penalty shootout villains as Germany progressed to the finalof the European Under-21 Championship after a thrilling encounter in which Aidy Boothroyd’s side were outplayed for large periods.
That they survived an extra-time onslaught from opposition who appeared to possess superior fitness despite having two days fewer to prepare is a testament to the spirit of the side. But that will not make it any easier to bear after they suffered the same fate as the teams of Bobby Robson and Terry Venables at the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96.
The shootout was in the balance when Yannick Gerhardt and Tammy Abraham both missed with the second spot-kicks. Lewis Baker, Ben Chilwell and James Ward‑Prowse all slotted home, yet it fell to Redmond, who arrived in Poland as England’s most experienced player in his third tournament, to become the fall guy as his tame penalty was saved by Julian Pollersbeck to send Germany through.
“We are absolutely gutted,” said Boothroyd, who replaced Gareth Southgate in September after his promotion to the senior side. “It’s a mixture of being sick of losing on penalties after going so close, but also very pleased, that this is not just one game. A lot of hard work went into this tournament, a lot of players have given everything.
“With all the practice we have done, their goalkeeper made two very good saves. We learned lots of lessons from the past, and worked on penalties, but the fatigue, the energy expended and the fact we fancied ourselves means we are very disappointed.”
Pollersbeck, who revealed before the match he had not featured in a penalty shootout since his junior days, consulted scraps of paper stuffed down his socks in an attempt to outfox England’s players. The ploy worked as first Abraham and then Redmond appeared to be a bundle of nerves as they approached, with the Germany manager, Stefan Kuntz – England’s nemesis in the memorable Euro 96 semi-final at Wembley – admitting the goalkeeper had made specific plans for each taker.
“He told us he was going to study the shooters and if he believes a shooter is very self-confident he will pick a side and if he doesn’t, he will concentrate on the ball,” Kuntz said.
After the victory at the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, this defeat was only the second England have endured in 21 matches at various youth levels this year, having suffered a similar fate in the Under-17 European Championship final against Spain last month. In truth, England were second best after Abraham had put them ahead early in the second half as they dropped deeper and deeper in an attempt to hang on to their lead. Having gone ahead in the first half through Davie Selke’s header before that was cancelled out by Demarai Gray, the substitute Felix Platte’s equaliser with 20 minutes to go took the game into extra time and there looked like being only one winner as Germany pressed forward.
With seven players who were eligible to play in this tournament in action at the Confederations Cup in Russia, this is rated as one of Germany’s best generations of recent years, which is certainly saying something. They probably should have had the chance to take the lead after 90 seconds when Calum Chambers clumsily clipped the heels of Selke in the box but the referee waved away his protests.
That close shave seemed to wake up England and within six minutes they had created three golden opportunities for Abraham, Nathaniel Chalobah and Gray. They were the sort of chances teams can live to regret and so it proved.
The loss of Chelsea’s Chalobah – who had passed a late fitness test on his groin – just after England went ahead shifted the balance in midfield, with the substitute Nadiem Amiri and Yannick Gerhardt both going close in extra time.
Boothroyd introduced the Wolves defender Dominic Iorfa at the halfway stage – the first time a new rule that permits a fourth replacement in extra time has been employed – as his side seemed flat out on their feet and desperate only to hang on for a penalty shootout, despite their additional recovery time.
“The problem we had was that we played that many shapes tonight as we tried to get a foothold in the game,” Boothroyd said.
“We started with our normal diamond, which worked well to start with. Then we tried to use our front players in a back six to get some whip back in the game, which we did. We put the wide players really wide. And we tried to go to a five. When you see chances go begging for them you start to think it might be your day. Unfortunately not.”
Chambers and Abraham could even have won it late on with half-chances but, in the end, it was left to the age-old method of deciding England v Germany semi-finals. One day it might just work out differently.TG