By Yuri Karpenko
The decisive stage in Group A of the European Under-21 Championship presented football players and fans with a whole range of emotions. The Swiss team earned the maximum amount of points across three matches, without a single missed goal, while the hosting Danish team was disappointed at failing to please fans by reaching the semi-finals. However, the brightest emotions were experienced by the Belarusian national squad. Despite being defeated 0:3, it managed to reach the semi-finals, due to Iceland beating Denmark 3:1. Previously, Belarus beat Iceland 2:0 and lost to the Danes 1:2.
The bitterness of loss and joy of participation in the semi-finals warmed the souls of the Belarusian footballers, as midfielder Pavel Nekhaichik notes, “It’s always pleasant to leave the group in such an important tournament, but we have mixed feelings. We are pleased we’ve left the group.” He was returning to the field after a spell in hospital. “We feel strangely, having lost twice yet having reached the semi-finals… I can only thank the Icelanders. Whatever we say, it’s the first time in our history that we’ve reached the semi-finals, so positive emotions prevail,” adds Alexander Gutor, goalkeeper for the Belarusian squad.
Belarus has twice before reached the final round of the European Under-21 Championship. In 2004, Yuri Puntus’ trainees lost in Germany, playing Italy, Serbia and Montenegro — who went on to reach the finals. Remarkably, in the first match of the group stage, Belarus beat the Italians, who later became the European champions. Two years ago, Yuri Kurnenin’s trainees also failed to reach the semi-finals in Sweden, coming fourth in their group after Italy, Sweden and Serbia.