DECLAN WARRINGTON / AIPS** in OLOMOUC: Finishing bottom of Group B, albeit amid intense competition, was not the outcome England expected or for which they had been planning.
After the embarrassment of losing all three UEFA U21 Euro fixtures in 2013, the appointment of a new manager in Gareth Southgate and the introduction of the Football Association’s youth development vision, greater progress had been expected.
What is easy to overlook, however, is the incremental development on display. In multiple ways Portugal, Sweden and Italy were the ideal opposition with which to judge this young England.
The sophisticated Portuguese – whose model represents much of what England hope to eventually replicate – were simply too intelligent, too adaptable and too organised for Southgate’s team; their 1-0 winning margin could have been greater.
Sweden, with their directness and physicality, are a reminder of the approach the FA hopes England will no longer need. Southgate’s team lacked confidence after defeat by Portugal but played the superior football and eventually earned their luck and 1-0 win.
Italy were more flawed than Portugal while being at least equal to – and possibly exceeding – them in quality. Liverpool’s Danny Ings missed an outstanding, and probably decisive, chance at 0-0 when he should have given England the lead; a moment of class then put the Azzurri in front and they were thereafter clinical, deserving their 3-1 victory.
In Harry Kane, England left a potentially world-class player isolated too often; they were occasionally naive, and they lacked belief. But significant injuries undermined them – John Stones was unavailable for their first two games, Saido Berahino all three – and they had an identity, demonstrating a fluidity in possession and shape.
This is ultimately a superior England team to the one Stuart Pearce took to Israel in 2013. The disappointment and the problems may be familiar, but it is in the expectations surrounding them – not England’s vision – where the biggest mistakes were made.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course at UEFA U21 EURO in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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