England Under-21s' dreams of making the European Championship final in Krakow were shattered in typical fashion on Tuesday (27 June) as Germany edged the dogged Lions out to win 4-3 on penalties after the match ended 2-2 in Poland.
Aidy Boothroyd's side started brightly with James Ward Prowse's deliveries causing Germany all manner of problems. Die Mannschaft seemed susceptible to aerial balls throughout the contest but soon gained control of the first half and took the lead 10 minutes before half-time, Davie Selke's close-range diving header gave Everton new boy Jordan Pickford no chance and Stefan Kuntz's men the lead.
England were comfortably second best in the period leading up to Germany's opener but it did not take long for the young Lions to restore parity. Leicester City's Demarai Gray, who could well be on the move this summer, volleyed in from seven yards out with just minutes to go until half-time after Calum Chambers' shot was initially blocked.
There was still time for a dose of controversy before half-time when Tammy Abraham was caught by the arm of Maximilian Arnold in the penalty area. Referee Gediminas Mazeika did not award a spot-kick, but replays showed that he probably should have penalised the Wolfsburg star.
Abraham, the young forward interesting a number of Premier League sides, did not let the incident get the better of him. The Chelsea starlet capitalised on Will Hughes' industriousness to slot home from close range and give his country an early advantage in the second half.
England's second-half dominance soon dissipated as Germany began to turn the screw. Max Meyer and Serge Gnabry caused Boothroyd's backline a multitude of problems, but interventions from Mason Holgate, Chambers and a few fine saves from the impressive Pickford managed to keep them at bay, albeit temporarily.
Substitute Felix Platte's near-post header from a teasing corner was too powerful for Pickford and leveled the score with 20 minutes to go. There was no quick retort from England this time, instead the young Lions sat deeper and deeper, creaking under the pressure the Germans were allowed to apply. A couple of magnificent stops from Pickford and a glaring miss from Marc-Oliver Kempf allowed England to crawl their way to extra-time, which started the way the second period ended.
Boothroyd's men were being cut to ribbons, with Nadeem Amiri's pace and trickery bamboozling the young defence. Southampton attacker Nathan Redmond was thrown on in an attempt to stem the tide, but he and the exhausted Abraham could do precious little with the wayward, scrappy, thoughtless balls provided by their drained cohorts.
England did manage to push their opponents back in the second period of extra-time and actually mustered some chances through Chambers and Jonathan Swift. Petulance was beginning to creep into Germany's game as Arnold was cautioned for some choice language, but they still kept making chances and almost snatched the lead through Amiri, who just failed to connect with Jeremy Toljan's low delivery.
Neither net was bulged during extra-time, so England found themselves in a situation that all countries dread to face; a penalty shoot-out with Germany. Die Mannschaft went first, Arnold blasting his spot-kick down the middle, but Lewis Baker kept his country level with a calm finish.
Jubilation followed for England when Pickford saved Gerhardt's penalty, but Pollersbeck was in no mood to be bettered and saved Abraham's tame effort to ensure the score remained tied. Normal service was resumed for Germany through Maximilian Philipp, but Leicester's Ben Chilwell demonstrated his class with a beautifully placed penalty to make it 2-2.
2-2 soon became 3-3 through Meyer and Ward-Prowse, but Amiri's low drive was not matched by Redmond, who was denied from the spot and in turn handed Germany a place in the final. England rode their luck throughout much of the contest in Poland, but Boothroyd's men failed in their attempts to emulate the World Cup-winning Under-20s and, like so many before them, could not better the Germans from the spot.