There were once four. Now, there's just one. Two were part of the squad of one of the favorites — on paper favorites, which means just about as much as useless midfield possession.
But let's start with the lone survivor, Andreas Christensen. He's played every minute of all three games for surprising Denmark, who ended the group stage with the most points and will face Sweden in Saturday's semifinal. (Sweden advanced over Italy thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.) Christensen started the first match in defensive midfield, but after Frederik Sørensen went down with injury, the Chelsea prospect was moved back to his natural center back position. Even though Denmark suffered a heavy loss to much favored Germany in the second game, they bounced back with a quality win over Serbia to secure the top spot.
Fellow defender Tomas Kalas also played every minute available to him, also at center back, but he was suspended for the Czechs' opener, which they lost to the aforementioned Danish team. The hosts would not lose again, but managed only a draw against Germany on the final matchday and that was only good enough for a third place finish. I was not able to watch either Kalas nor Christensen as much as I had hoped to, but by all accounts, they did well enough.
The same couldn't be said for Gareth Southgate's highly disappointing England U21 side who managed just one win and two goals in their three matches. Considering the firepower on hand, that's unacceptable. Considering the talent available in midfield, including the two Chelsea boys Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, consistently allowing the opposition to carve the team open is unacceptable. Giving Loftus-Cheek just substitute appearances when Chalobah was crying out for someone to help him control the game is unacceptable. Southgate apparently will not resign his post, though if the media were judge, jury, and executioner, he probably wouldn't even have been allowed back on the plane home.
England were particularly poor on the final matchday, losing 3-1 to a rather unimpressive Italy side.
Worrying that U21s think they "played better football" y'day. Falling into that trap that equates toothless possession with good football.— Tweeds (@JTweedsPOA) June 25, 2015
At least things ended on a decent note, thanks to this lovely flick from Loftus-Cheek and wallop of a finish from Nathan Redmond.
While the 19-year-old RLC, the youngest member of the squad, managed to emerge mostly with credit from this debacle, the same can't be said for Nathaniel Chalobah who played every minute and yet was largely unimpressive. An argument could be made that he was hung out to dry by the lackluster play of the rest of his teammates (and especially the four non-RLC midfielders he was saddled with at various times), but he often gave the ball away in routine situations while the opposition were usually able to play around him at will. Certainly not a tournament to cherish for him personally, nor for England as a collective.
But, Christensen and Denmark roll on, so we've got reason to pay attention on Saturday. Plus, both Portugal and Germany, the other two semifinalists have looked like proper footballing sides for most the group stages and there's a good chance that one of those two will emerge as the winners of Euro U21.