Saturday 24 March 2018

England bow out of Under-21 European Championship with a whimper after Italy defeat

England's Harry Kane looks dejected
Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine
England's Harry Kane looks dejected Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine

Simon Peach

England have once again fallen short at a major tournament after Gareth Southgate's side capitulated against Italy, resulting in a third successive group-stage exit at the Under-21 European Championship.

A year to the day since a goalless draw with Costa Rica rubber-stamped the senior team's disastrous World Cup, the new generation blew a golden opportunity to progress to the semi-finals in the Czech Republic.

England's destiny was in their own hands after the last-gasp win against Sweden, but it proved a false dawn as the Azzurrini triumphed 3-1 and the national team was once again found wanting.

Questions will be asked of Southgate and his selections after the Young Lions finished bottom of Group B, but few expect the head coach to pay with his job like predecessor Stuart Pearce.

Unlike the unmitigated disaster of Israel two years ago, this tournament has been more a case of what could have been - epitomised by Danny Ings and Harry Kane coming close before defensive hesitancy allowed Italy to take the lead.

Within two minutes of Andrea Belotti impressively turning home against the run of play, Luigi Di Biagio's side were celebrating a second as Marco Benassi's low strike took a crucial deflection off Ben Gibson and trickled home.

Jesse Lingard attempted to add to his wonder-strike against Sweden after half-time, but he and his England team-mates only fell further behind thanks to man-of-the-match Benassi's fine header.

Nathan Redmond rifled home in stoppage-time but it was too little too late as England exited at the group stage - a fate they shared with Italy after Sweden's late equaliser against Portugal.

Press Association

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