Frederik Alves and his Denmark U21 teammates suffered an agonising exit from the UEFA European U21 Championship knockout stages on Monday evening.
Facing a much-fancied Germany side in the competition’s quarter-finals, the Danes – who themselves held an imperious record throughout qualification and the group stages – came within minutes of sealing a spot in the semi-finals, but ultimately conceded a late equaliser and lost on penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw after extra-time.
Alves’ team had gone unbeaten in all 13 ties they had played in the competition prior to Monday, winning eight and drawing two in the qualification round before winning all three group-stage matches – held in March – to reach the last eight.
The 21-year-old was handed his first start in the tournament finals against the Germans, looking to maintain his side's run of three consecutive clean sheets which had seen them dominate Group C.
That proud record seemed set to continue following a goalless first-half in which Alves, lining up alongside FC Copenhagen centre-back Victor Nelsson, restricted the Germans to largely half-chances at best.
And things got even better for Denmark midway through the second half when 17-year-old Wahidullah Faghir, just three minutes after entering the field of play, took on two Germany defenders and rifled in a rising shot from just inside the area.
Sadly, however, Alves and the Danes could not hold on in the face of increasing pressure, as Lukas Nmecha stabbed in from a Germany corner kick with two minutes left to play.
Extra-time threatened to see the game slip away from Denmark when Jonathan Burkardt chested down a cross and volleyed the ball into the net via a fortuitous bounce, but they showed their spirit to fight back via a Nelsson penalty-kick moments after half-time after Gustav Isaksen had been tripped inside the area.
With seconds remaining, Isaksen produced another superb run to round the goalkeeper and set up Faghir from six yards, but the forward made poor contact with the ball and could not convert a golden opportunity under pressure.
And so, after 120 minutes of action, it came down to penalties, with goalscorers Faghir and Burkhardt both missing their respective kicks in the initial five, before Denmark’s Victor Kristiansen was the unfortunate player to fail to score his during sudden death – Germany progressing 6-5 in the shootout.
Alves can take great pride in his contribution to an excellent run for his national team, following his strong end to the domestic season helping West Ham United U23s retain their Premier League 2 Division 1 status.
Alves’ development squad teammate and West Ham U23s captain Conor Coventry was also in action over the weekend for Republic of Ireland U21s, who slipped to a 2-0 friendly defeat against Switzerland in Marbella.
Wearing the captain’s armband for the Boys in Green for the first time, Coventry played 75 minutes of the evenly-matched fixture as goals from Leonidas Stergiou and Gabriel Bares either side of half-time saw the Swiss seize victory.
Republic of Ireland boss Jim Crawford afforded five players their U21s debuts in the game, with Switzerland’s greater experience eventually winning out in the Spanish sunshine.
Coventry and his teammates will now look forward to two more workouts – against Australia on Wednesday, and Denmark and Alves on Saturday – before their 2023 U21 European Championship qualification campaign commences in September.