TEL AVIV: Hosts Israel drew 2-2 with 10-men Norway and England conceded their first goal in 889 minutes in losing 1-0 to Italy on the opening day of the European Under-21 finals.
Tight security surrounds the tournament – the most important staged in Israel– after pro-Palestinan protests against the hosting award by European football federation UEFA.
A penalty from captain Nir Biton put Israel ahead in the 16th minute against Norway in the event-opening Group A game. This was Israel’s first goal in a finals after they lost all three group fixtures in 2007, their only previous appearance, without scoring.
Norway punished a defensive slip to equalize in the 24th minute through Marcus Pedersen but they were reduced to 10 men just before when Vegar Hedenstad was sent off for bringing down Mohammed Kalibat as the Israeli closed in on goal.
Norway defied the numerical disadvantage after half-time and hit the post three times only to be caught out on a 72nd-minute counter-attack by Alon Turgeman. Substitute Harmeet Singh snatched a point for Norway with a strike in the first minute of injury time.
The other first-day game saw England outplayed by Italy who deserved victory provided by a 79th-free kick from Lorenzo Insigne.
England, who had won their previous nine matches, were left bottom of the group, with Italy top. Stuart Pearce’s team were unhappy at having had a goal from Craig Dawson disallowed four minutes into the second half because Steven Caulker had pushed Matteo Bianchetti.
In Thursday’s Group B action Spain play Russia while Germany clash with Holland. The two top finishers in each group play in the semi-finals next Saturday with the final in Jerusalem on June 18.
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