By Yuri Karpenko
The Belarusian under-21 football team have been incredibly lucky; despite two losses, they have been placed second in Group A and, amazingly, reached the European Championship’s play-offs. Georgy Kondratiev’s trainees are through to the semi-finals owing to having the best difference in scores. They even gained help from their rivals: Iceland beat Denmark 3:1.
However, the team has had to seriously fight for a ticket to the London Summer Olympics, as the English team’s loss to the Czech Republic has not given Belarus a chance ahead of time. Tickets go to the top three teams in the tournament, so the Belarusian junior team needed to at least come third or reach the finals of the European Championship. It was not an easy task. In the semi-finals, the Belarusian squad played the almost unrivalled Spaniards, who confidently beat the Czechs and Ukrainians at the group stage, while drawing against the English.
In their match against Spain, the Belarusian team managed to demonstrate their full potential, showing great determination more than skilful play. They lost again but their defeat significantly differed from the Swiss fiasco. Spain was a favourite on paper and in action, demonstrating confident play; they had every reason to foresee an easy victory in their semi-final match against Belarus (whose performance was not so impressive). Beginning in high spirits, they faced impressive discipline on the side of Belarus; in the 38th minute, Andrey Voronkov scored with an acrobatic pass — much to Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea’s embarrassment. Nevertheless, in the final minute before regular time ended, Adrian Lopez equalised and, during extra time, Lopez joined Jeffren in earning Luis Milla’s trainees a place in the finals.
The tournament match against the Czechs for third place (and the ticket to London) did not prove easy. In the first half of the game, the Czech players took the initiative while Belarus was obliged to fall into defence, rarely threatening their rivals’ goal. After halftime, the picture drastically changed. Georgy Kondratiev’s trainees went on the attack, allowing the squad to claim victory. Yegor Filipenko scored the winning goal in the 89th minute, which takes the national junior team to the 2012 Olympics. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko congratulated them on their success.