UEFA U21s: Denmark 2 Serbia 0 (23rd June 2015)
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that St. Vitus’ Cathedral, in the grounds of Prague castle, should be visible from Sparta Prague’s Letna Stadium. After all, my first sight of the stadium was from climbing one of the cathedral’s towers several years earlier. Nevertheless, seeing one of the city’s most famous sights so clearly does seem odd to the football goer, so used to football grounds being far removed from the nicer parts of most cities.
Beyond, the lacrosse-racquet shaped floodlights of the Strahov come into view, along with the Petrin Tower. You can also clearly see the Žižkov tower, but that pokes its too-modern head into so many panoramas that you almost don’t notice. No sight of the large metronome on the other side of Letna Park though. The Museum of Communism highlighted that it replaced a statue of Stalin that was considered so hideous that even the Soviet puppet government of Czechoslovakia knocked it down after just seven years, and the sculptor committed suicide the day before it was unveiled.
The designer of Sparta’s Letna Stadium, currently renamed the Generali Arena, would no doubt be a little more pleased with his work. Based around an older main stand that takes up about two thirds of the length of the pitch, two tiers wrap around the ground to make a place holding about 20,000 all seated. Roof-mounted floodlights add a touch of elegance to the place, and the back walls are perspex, so those views of the city beyond aren’t lost. Maybe its lack of facilities means the place is beginning to show its age a little, but a spartan ground for a club named Sparta seems appropriate.
The ground had been used for the opening two games of the Czech Republic’s campaign; a surprise defeat to Denmark, and a 4-0 rout of Serbia. Today though, with the Czechs taking on Germany at the same time at Eden, it would host Denmark and Serbia, and it’s fair to say that might have had something of an impact on the crowd. Only 4297 would be at the game, which is a shame as it was a game that was very nicely poised.
Denmark, with three points from that opening day win, knew that a win would guarantee qualification. A draw would see them qualify unless the Czech beat Germany. For Serbia, they had to win, and also hope the Germans didn’t lose, unless there was a seven-goal change in goal difference in their favour.
The Serbia fans were heavily outnumbered by the Danes. If there actually was a Serbia “end” I didn’t notice, but there did seem to be a small knot of their fans on the halfway line opposite the main stand. Small in number, but high in pride, the belted out their national anthem with a lung-busting gusto that made you wonder if they thought volume alone would be enough to give them an extra point or two.
A few hundred Danes added a splash of red to the north stand’s upper tier, a constant stream of planes descending in the Prague airport beyond, and they’d be the ones celebrating this evening.
Rather like in the Germany game, Denmark made a pretty decent start. Unlike in that game, they capitalised on it. After 21 minutes Odense’s Rasmus Falk found himself on the end of a low cross about 10 yards out, after a missed header. Almost surprising everyone, he side-footed the ball towards the net on instinct, and it was past the Serbian keeper and into the net before he barely moved.
For the rest of the half Serbia looked like a team who knew they had to win, but they just didn’t have the strikers to do so. They’d have gone in at half time feeling disappointed to be behind, but still confident they could get back into it.
That feeling would have lasted about two minutes into the second half. A free kick was swung in an Ajax’s Viktor Fischer brought it down beyond the far post. From there an almost nonchalant flick at the ball with his left foot was enough to see it roll past the Serbian keeper and into the net for 2-0.
Serbia kept playing, but without the same belief. The biggest cheer for the rest of the game was the news of the Czechs equalising against Germany, but with them also going out with that scoreline, it was only that splash of red, in the upper tier but then moving down to the tier below, who looked happy.
For Denmark, they’d be back in this stadium four days later, but for me the tournament was over, flying back to England the following day. At least, with it being a Wednesday, the plane should be blissfully free from stag parties this time.