Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for tonight's Under-21 European Championship final! It pits two of European football's heavyweights against each other as Germany take on Spain in Krakow, although it is Spain who have a substantially better record at Under-21 level. These have arguably been the two standout teams in the competition so far, so it is a worthy final and it promises to be a very interesting contest. Before we take a more in-depth look, though, let's check out the team news...
GERMANY STARTING XI: Pollersbeck; Toljan, Stark, Kempf, Gerhardt; Arnold, Meyer, Haberer; Gnabry, Philipp, Weiser
GERMANY SUBS: Schwabe, Vlachodimos, Anton, Jung, Dahoud, Selke, Platte, Klunter, Kehrer, Amiri, Oztunali, Kohr
SPAIN STARTING XI: Kepa; Bellerin, Mere, Vallejo, Jonny; Ceballos, Saul, Llorente; Asensio, Sandro, Deulofeu
SPAIN SUBS: Blanco, Pau, Gaya, Mayoral, Suarez, Merino, Williams, Odriozola, Oyarzabal, Soler, Hernandez, Gonzalez
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, the first thing to note from Germany's point of view is that Davie Selke - scorer of their first goal in the semi-final against England - has not been deemed fit enough to start tonight having limped off in that game. His replacement on the night was Felix Platte, who went on to score the goal which ultimately forced a penalty shootout, but interestingly it is Weiser who gets the call this evening. Platte was a threat in the air and that could have been a route to hurt Spain, but Stefan Kuntz
has instead opted to recall Weiser.
That is one of two changes made by Kuntz for this one, having not made a single change to his starting lineup up until the semi-finals. Three new faces came in for the game against England but one of them - Gideon Jung - drops back out due to the return to fitness of Niklas Stark. Stark was injured in the warm-up to that semi-final and subsequently replaced by Jung late on prior to that match, but he is ready to start this evening and duly recalled straight back into the starting XI.
Stark comes into the heart of the defence alongside Marc-Oliver Kempf, while Toljan - who was superb in the semi-final against England - and Gerhardt provide the width. Haberer and Philipp both retain their places in the side further forward having been brought in for the semi-final, while Maximilian Arnold will once again wear the armband in midfield. Perhaps the most memorable name in that team for fans of England football will be Serge Gnabry, who used to play for Arsenal but has recently joined Bayern Munich.
Four of this squad already have senior caps to their names, with Arnold, Gerhardt, Gnabry and Meyer having turned out for the full team - Meyer doing so four times. There would be even more experience in their ranks but for many players' involvement in the Confederations Cup, where Germany have taken a young squad to compete in Russia. There is also experience of winning youth tournaments amongst this group of players - Stark, Kempf, Oztunali and Selke were all part of Germany's Euro Under-19 winning team in 2014.
Spain can certainly raise those experience stakes, though, with captain Gerard Deulofeu alone having won the Under-19 European Championships on two occasions, in 2011 and 2012. The latter of which also saw the likes of Kepa, Jonny and Suarez in the squad, while more recently Mayoral, Asensio, Ceballos, Hernandez, Merino, Mere and Vallejo were all involved in Spain's 2015 Under-19 European Championships-winning team. This is a group of players who have come through the ranks with each other and enjoyed success all along the way. Another Spanish golden generation?
The standout player in a Spain squad bursting with talent is Marco Asensio, who already has a Champions League final goal and winners' medal on his honours list and is looking to add this trophy to it. The Real Madrid wide man began the tournament with a hat-trick against Macedonia and, while he has not found the back of the net since, he has still played his part in Spain sweeping all before them in this tournament so far. He is by no means alone in the individual talent stakes, though, with the likes of Sandro, Deulofeu and Ceballos also having impressed - among others.
The star of the show in the semi-final was undoubtedly Saul Niguez, who scored a fantastic hat-trick to fire Spain past Italy. Most eyes may be on Asensio at this tournament, but Saul is right up there alongside him and that hat-trick took him to the top of the goalscoring leaderboard in the competition with five. You would expect both him and Asensio to at least be in the running for the Golden Ball award too, and the strength in depth shown by Spain's Under-21 side is proven by the fact that the likes of Denis Suarez and Inaki Williams can't even make the starting lineup.
It is an unchanged Spain side from the one that beat Italy in the semi-final, as you might expect given the quality of their performance in the second half especially. Four of the starters - Asensio, Bellerin, Deulofeu and Saul - already have three caps each for the senior team, while there are three more fully-capped players on the bench too. Another interesting thing to look out for is Marcos Llorente having the chance to be part of the first father-son pairing to ever win the Under-21 European Championships, following in the footsteps of his father Paco Llorente who won it in 1986 with a penalty shootout victory over Italy.
It is a Spain squad packed with talent, then, but if there is one European footballing nation that will not be intimidated by that then it is Germany. Germany, even at this age level, have shown signs of their ruthless efficiency in this tournament and their collective quality is arguably their main strength. Whether that is strong enough to see them past Spain remains to be seen, but they come into this match with a very real chance of lifting the trophy.
Germany are still underdogs, though, and that is no major surprise looking at the stats. They have already lost once in this year's tournament, being beaten by Italy in their final group game to lose out on top spot in Group C. Indeed, Germany only reached the semi-finals by virtue of being the best-placed runners-up, and even that was a very close-run thing with Slovakia. A 2-0 defeat to Italy would have seen them crash out in the groups, but as they only lost 1-0 they beat Slovakia to the last semi-final spot on goal difference.
It all seemed plain-sailing for Germany up until that Italy defeat, with comfortable wins over both Czech Republic and Denmark to begin their campaign. They weren't quite firing on all cylinders in their opener against the Czechs, but they were still worthy of their 2-0 win, and they went one better than that with the 3-0 victory over Denmark. The 1-0 defeat to Italy followed that, though, and Stefan Kuntz
was so unhappy with that performance that he made changes to his side for the first time in the tournament heading into the semi-final.
Kuntz described his side's performance against England in the semis as almost perfect despite being taken all the way to penalties, and in truth Germany really should have wrapped things up long before the shootout. England certainly had their moments and created a fair amount of chances, but Germany were the dominant force for long spells and missed one of two sitters of their own to prevent even extra time, yet along penalties. It ultimately went to the shootout, though, and the outcome was painfully predictable as Germany came out on top against England again courtesy of two Pollersbeck saves.
Germany don't actually come into this match - or this tournament - in great form, though. They have failed to win four of their last seven games inside 90 minutes - or even 120 minutes - losing three of those, which is as many defeats as they had suffered in their previous 33 outings. Indeed, they have lost as many games since November of last year as they did between June 2013 and November 2016, and this dip in form has followed a 13-match winning streak, which makes it all the more puzzling for Stefan Kuntz. All of that will be forgotten if they lift the trophy tonight, though.
Germany had no trouble qualifying for the competition, though, cruising through as Group 7 winners with the only 100% record of any team in the qualification stage. They won all 10 of their outings to give them the highest points tally of any team, and they also registered the most goals of any team in qualifying with 35. Their group consisted of Austria, Finland, Azerbaijan, Russia and Faroe Islands, the former of whom also gave Spain a run for their money in a later qualifying stage - of which I will discuss a little later.
Somewhat surprisingly for a nation of their footballing pedigree, Germany have not fared particularly well in this particular tournament. This is only the third time in the last seven tournaments that they have even made it out of the group stages, and they are appearing in the final for just the second time. The previous one provided their only Under-21 title, though, thrashing England in the 2009 final with a team which included the likes of Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Ozil and Khedira. Their progress this year, coupled with a youthful senior side getting to the finals of the Confederations Cup, suggests that the future is just as bright as the past for Germany.
The same could very much be said of Spain, though, and they boast a record in this competition which only Italy can beat. They have won the trophy four times and victory tonight would move them alongside Italy as the two most successful nations in Under-21 European Championship history, so their could be records equalled here. It would also be their third title in the last six years following on from 2011 and 2013, only failing to win in 2015 when Sweden emerged surprise victors. They also lifted the trophy in 1986 and 1998 and have only been beaten twice having made it to the showpiece.
Unlike Germany, though, Spain's qualifying campaign was not quite smooth-sailing. Many backed La Roja among the favourites heading into the competition, but that was not so much down to their qualifying form as to the quality they possessed in their squad. Indeed, Spain were close to never even making it to the tournament having finished second in qualifying Group 6, one point behind Sweden in a group which also included Croatia, George, Estonia and San Marino - not exactly heavyweights in the football world.
Spain's second-place finish was enough for them to go into the playoffs, though, where they took on Austria - the team which was beaten to top spot in their group by Germany. That was not quite plain sailing either, drawing the first leg 1-1 in Austria before being held to a goalless draw in the reverse. That was enough for Spain to go through on away goals but, for a team so steeped in the history of this competition and with so many good players at their disposal, they cut things a lot closer than they would have liked.
Spain fans will tell you that it's not how you get to the tournament, it's how you do at the tournament itself, and they would have a very good point too. Spain have been the standout team in this year's competition, winning all four of their matches so far as not only the one team with a 100% record, but also the only unbeaten team following England's semi-final exit. La Roja are the top scorers in the competition with 12 goals - a healthy average of three per game - while they have also conceded the fewest goals having shipped just two throughout.
Despite those impressive stats, plenty of teams will feel that they haven't done an awful lot wrong in their games against Spain. Macedonia were on the end of a 5-0 thrashing in the opening game, but that scoreline was harsh on them and it could have been a lot closer had one or two things gone the other way. Next Portugal gave them a very good game before succumbing to a 3-1 defeat, and Spain then made 11 changes to the side which beat Serbia 1-0, when Serbia were down to 10 men from the 40th minute. Albert Celades
's side have just been clinical when they need to be, and that has been the main difference for them so far.
Italy were awaiting in the semi-final, and it was much the same story really. The Italians started well and had the best chance of the first half, but a clinical goal from Saul and subsequent red card for Gagliardino put Spain in complete control of the contest. Italy did hit back and level things up against the odds through Pellegrini, but their defiance was short-lived and Saul soon blasted Spain back ahead before completing a wonderful hat-trick.
Spain still have a 100% record in 2017 having won all six of their games, and another victory tonight would see then string a run of seven together for the first time since a 16-game run ended in September 2014. Spain last failed to win a game in the second leg of their playoff for this competition when they drew 0-0 with Austria in November, while you have to go back to March 2016 for their last defeat - 13 matches ago. Incredibly, Germany have lost as many games in their last seven outings as Spain have in their last 60, stretching back to 2009.
PREDICTION: Right, we're 10 minutes away from kickoff this evening so it's about time I made a prediction! It is always hard to count against the Germans in major tournaments, even ones like this where they don't actually have a great record. However, the quality of Spain's squad is something else and they have looked head and shoulders above most other teams in this competition so far. I am going for a 3-1 Spain win!
Germany have only ever won one of their six competitive meetings with Spain at Under-21 level, drawing one and losing four of those including one draw and one defeat at previous European Championships. West Germany did beat Spain in the quarter-finals of the 1982 edition, though, with Rudi Voller and Pierre Littbarski on the scoresheet in a 3-1 aggregate victory. West Germany went on to the final that year, where they lost to England.
These two side last met in March 2014, and the goalscorers that day suggest what a bright future awaits some of the current Spain players, with Alvaro Morata and Isco on the scoresheet in a 2-0 friendly victory. Morata was also a scorer when they last met in the European Championships too, netting the only goal of the game four minutes from time in a 2013 group stage clash.
Both previous times these two sides have met at the Euros, one of them has gone on to lift the trophy - a record which is of course guaranteed to continue tonight. It will be interesting to see where the differences lie, though. Germany looked exceptionally weak from set pieces against England, but that is not an avenue of attack which Spain exploit very often. Spain, on the other hand, have looked open defensively at times - despite boasting the competition's best defence - and Germany's attack could make the most of that if they are at their free-flowing best.
Right, on with the usual niceties, pomp and circumstance which always precede football finals - the anthems, the handshakes, the photos and, soon enough, the football! We are just moments away from kickoff.
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Germany get the final of the 2017 Under-21 European Championship underway!
Fierce and ferocious start from both sides as Germany look to upset Spain's early rhythm and ensure that they don't monopolise possession of the ball in the very early stages.
This game has been played almost exclusively in Germany's half so far. Spain are dominating the possession and territory, with Germany unable to get out right now.
SAVE! It is Kepa in the Spain goal who is called into the first save, though, as what looks like a mis-hit cross from Weiser needs to be tipped over by the keeper.
OFF THE POST! Much better from Germany now! They have their first real spell of pressure and Meyer flicks a header towards the bottom corner which smacks against the outside of the post.
SHOT! It took Germany about five minutes to settle into this, but they are very much in it now. Arnold is invited to shoot from all of 30 yards out - if not more - and it is a fine strike which swings just past the post. Kepa was worried there!
Arnold looks fired up for this one. He gives Sandro a late nudge on the ball - not the first he has dished out already tonight - and one or two red shirts take exception. The referee gives the German skipper a talking-to, no more.
CHANCE! Spain first big chance of the night falls to an unlikely source as Bellerin gets his head to a fine cross from the right flank, where he would usually be. The Arsenal man tries to glance his header into the far corner, but it drops just past the post.
With the exception of the first five minutes, when they really were penned back into their own half, Germany have done a good job of upsetting Spain's rhythm so far. Indeed, they have just about edged the possession at the 15-minute mark.
SHOT! Gnabry suddenly bursts into life inside the penalty area, taking a low cross into his path really well before trying a powerful low strike towards goal from a tight angle, but his effort slams into the side-netting.
Good play from Deulofeu as he picks the ball up on the left flank before dipping his shoulder and coming inside. He tries to curl one towards the far corner, but Kempf puts his body in the way and blocks it behind for a corner.
Germany want a yellow card for LLorente as he shoves Gnabry to the ground to prevent him from going past him, but the referee is right to only give the Spain midfielder a talking-to. Free kick to Germany in a good crossing position, though...
CHANCE! The ball is swung all the way over to the back post where Gnabry has been left unmarked, but his initial volley is blocked by Llorente unintentionally. The ball does fall back to Gnabry, but his second effort lacks power and Kepa drops on the ball at his near post.
We're midway through the first half already here in Krakow and it is Germany who have shaded things so far. Spain started ominously, but Germany have been the better team since that opening five minutes.
Very calm defending from Kempf inside his own penalty as he almost turns into danger. He didn't appear to see the Spain forward closing him down at first, but once he did he coolly took the ball past him.
This is interesting to see Spain ceding the majority of possession and dropping back into a deep shape, defending in numbers. They will not have been in this position too often, but right now Germany are beating Spain at their own game.
Germany will be keen to make the most of this period of dominance. Spain came into this match as fairly big favourites and Germany will know that they have the quality to punish them at any point should they themselves not take their chances.
Chance for Spain to break as Toljan gives the ball away to Deulofeu, but the Germans are so quick to get back and eventually snuff out the attack. Germany were cut open with ease by England at times, but they have been solid at the back so far tonight.
Half a chance for Spain as Saul gets his head on a corner, but he is a little too far out and can't get the direction or power on it to trouble Germany.
Another shooting opportunity for Spain, this time for Saul after a clever flick from Sandro. The semi-final hat-trick hero tries to curl one into the far corner, but he shot is blocked before it can test Pollersbeck.
Spain are starting to find a bit of space from set pieces, as England did in the semi-finals, but they don't have the same aerial power to really make the most of it. Mere gets to a corner here, but can only nod it back across goal.
Germany are really playing the game on their terms at the moment, which is not how many would have expected this one to go. They will be very happy with their performance so far - the only thing missing is a goal.
Chance for Germany to break as Bellerin is caught in position, but Gnabry trips over the ball and that allows Spain's defence to get back. The ball eventually comes out to Haberer, but his shot literally goes out of the stadium, drawing the biggest cheer of the night so far.
GOAL! Germany Under-21s 1-0 Spain Under-21s (Mitchell Weiser)
Germany finally make their pressure pay! They draw first blood in this final through Mitchell Weiser
, and it is a fine header from the winger. Toljan whips the ball into the box from the right and Weiser just flicks his head at it, looping it over Kepa and into the far corner. That seemed to come out of nothing, but Germany are well worthy of the lead.
This is a very interesting test for Spain now. This is the first time they have been behind in the tournament, and arguably the first time they have been so comprehensively outplayed.
Germany have just not allowed Spain to get into any passing rhythm tonight. They have hounded their midfielders and won the ball back quickly as soon as it gets to one of the dangerous playmakers.
HALF TIME: Germany Under-21s 1-0 Spain Under-21s
A very interesting first half comes to an end in Krakow, with Germany leading Spain in this European Championship final. Spain began the match ominously by dominating the opening five minutes, but from that point on it has been Germany who have been the better team. Germany may feel that they should be more than one goal ahead, but they are certainly deserving of their half-time lead.
The only goal of the game so far came five minutes before half time when Mitchell Weiser made their dominance pay. Toljan was the creator with a whipped cross into the middle from the right flank, and Weiser just threw his head at the ball and flicked a header over the goalkeeper and into the far corner. It was a strange goal, but a good one and Germany would have taken it whatever it looked like.
It is Germany who have created the better chances aside from the goal too, including another header which hit the post. This time it was Meyer who flicked Gerhardt's cross on, and Kepa was scrambling a little before seeing the ball come back off the outside of the post. Gnabry has also come close on a couple of occasions, while Arnold has worried the Spain keeper with a long-range strike which flew narrowly wide.
The only chance Spain can look back on fell to the unlikely source of Hector Bellerin, who flicked a header narrowly wide after 13 minutes. La Roja have just not been allowed to settle into their usual rhythm by Germany, giving up most of the possession and territory. Spain need to move the ball quicker in the second half to play around the energetic press from Germany's midfielders.
KICKOFF: Spain get us back underway for the second half of this Under-21 European Championship final!
YELLOW CARD! The first yellow card of the game arrives early in the second half as Arnold goes into the book for a late foul on Sandro.
Really good defending from Gerhardt down the flank as he wrestles with Deulofeu and prevents the winger from getting in behind him. Deulofeu wants a foul, but for me that was good defending to eventually win the ball.
YELLOW CARD! The cards may be coming out a little more freely in this half. Haberer joins his captain in the book for a challenge on Llorente. That was a harsh one, though.
SPAIN SUB: Early change for Spain in this second half as Jonny is replaced by Jose Gaya.
YELLOW CARD! These cautions are beginning to tot up! Stark can have no complaints about this one, though, having scythed Ceballos down.
YELLOW CARD! Spain want another German yellow card for a trip from Weiser, but instead it is Llorente who goes into the book for asking for the card!
The referee now tells both sides just to calm down. There is an edge to this game at the moment and the referee needs to keep on top of things otherwise it could bubble over.
This has been much better from Spain so far in this second half. They needed to move the ball quicker and they are doing exactly that. Germany are the team on the back foot right now!
SAVE! Brilliant from Saul. A long ball goes forward to the semi-final hat-trick hero and he takes it down on his chest before looking to bend one into the corner from 25 yards. It is a very good strike too, but Pollersbeck is there to turn it round the post.
SHOT! Germany suddenly respond with their first real attack of this second half. It is a brilliant run from Weiser down the right as he beats a number of red shirts before pulling the ball back for Meyer. Meyer effort is blocked, but it bounces back out to Arnold who scuffs his shot well wide.
CHANCE! Big chance for Germany to give themselves a cushion! Gnabry gets on the end of a lovely little through-ball into the box and only has the keeper to beat, but Kepa sticks out a big leg to deny the winger.
CLOSE! The resulting corner is met by Kempf, but his header goes just wide of the target. The final touch came off a Spanish player, but the officials did not see that and a goal kick is given.
Germany seem to have weathered the Spain storm and are now on top again. Gnabry gets a shooting chance from outside the area, but he is forced to rush his effort and slices it well wide.
Germany have responded really well to that early spell of Spain pressure, and since that Saul shot it is Kuntz's side who have been very much on top.
Almost a chance for Germany to grab a second and go a long way to killing this game off. The balls almost breaks kindly in the box, but a scramble ensues and Spain just about survive as Gnabry smuggles an effort wide of the target.
Just over 20 minutes remaining in this one, and still it is on a knife edge. The next goal is so crucial tonight - it would be hard to see Spain getting back into it if Germany move two ahead (although you can never rule Spain out), but if Spain level things up then we will be in for a very interesting finale.
Spain are seeing more of the ball again now, and Germany just nee to make sure they don't get into their usual rhythm during the final 20 minutes. They have stifled them so far, and 20 more minutes of that will make them European champions.
CHANCE! Half a chance for Germany as Gnabry picks the ball up inside the box, but he slices his effort wide of the front post.
SPAIN SUB: Time for a change from Spain as Inaki Williams replaces Sandro.
CLOSE! Ceballos suddenly bursts into life, gliding forward from midfield past three players before unleashing a well-struck drive which fizzes inches past the post. That was very close indeed!
The clock continues to tick down and we have just over 15 minutes remaining now for Spain to haul themselves back into this match. Albert Celades
still has one sub available to him...
Lightning break from Spain as Bellerin leads the charge, bursting forward down the right. He gives it to Williams, who in turn tries to flick it back into Bellerin's path, but Kempf is there to step in.
SHOT! Deulofeu is the next to come close for Spain, cutting inside from the left flank before seeing his deflected shot go wide of the near post.
Spain's pressure is beginning to build now! Germany just can't keep the ball and, while they are still battling well, the ball just keeps coming back at them. Danger is brewing!
YELLOW CARD! Meyer is the latest name in the book, seemingly for an earlier indiscretion.
Spain win a free kick in a good position and Asensio gets the big build-up, but he crashes his effort straight into the wall.
GERMANY SUB: Germany needed a change to the way this game is going, and Kuntz turns to Nadiem Amiri as he replaces Gnabry.
GERMANY SUB: Another change from the Germans sees Haberer replaced by Dominik Kohr.
SPAIN SUB: Spain also make their final change, and it is unsurprisingly an attacking one as Borja Mayoral comes on for Llorente.
Germany are very nearly there! They are just five minutes plus stoppage time away from bring crowned European champions, but you can never count Spain out. We're in for a big finale here!
GERMANY SUB: A third and final change for Germany now as Levin Oztunali replaces Philipp.
YELLOW CARD! A late card for Vallejo, and more importantly a chance to waste a few more seconds for Germany. All eyes on the fourth official...
Spain will have four minutes of added time in which to save themselves here.
FULL TIME: Germany Under-21s 1-0 Spain Under-21s
GERMANY WIN THE 2017 UNDER-21 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS!
The whole Germany squad race onto the field in delight at the sound of the final whistle, which signifies that they have won just their second ever Under-21 European Championship title. Many of their last group of winners in 2009 went on to become World Cup winners in 2014, so the future certainly looks bright for German football! It was Weiser who got the only goal of the game this evening to hand Germany a 1-0 win over Spain, who were favourites heading into the tournament but really didn't show up tonight.
Right, that is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's 2017 Under-21 European Championship final as Germany beat Spain 1-0 to lift the trophy for just the second time. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for any reaction. There is also more international football coming your way on Sunday with the Confederations Cup final, coverage of which can again be found live on the site. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!