England's footballers bowed out of their latest major tournament yesterday, as the Under-21s slumped to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to their Italian counterparts in the European Championship. That result, combined with the draw between Portugal and Sweden, condemned the young Three Lions to bottom place in Group B. Despite the failure to progress to the later stages in the Czech Republic, coach Gareth Southgate is still firmly of the belief that England can win the World Cup in 2022 and wants to stay on in his current position.
Make or break match
Southgate's young charges went into the make or break match against Italy with improved confidence after an uplifting 1-0 victory over Sweden. That win had provided them with the opportunity to qualify from the group on the proviso that they gained a positive result in their final match.
Sadly they were never quite at the races against an experienced Italian line-up with twice the number of appearances in Serie A last season as the English players had played in the Premier League. That basic nous shone through in a game where England had plenty of the ball but no definitive end product, until it was all far too late at the Ander stadium.
Too little, too late
Their only tangible reward for their numerous (mainly off-target) shots at goal and effort came from Nathan Redmond in the dying seconds. By then they were already 3-0 adrift, yet the classy set up and finish by the Norwich City star ably demonstrated what they were capable of.
They were essentially undone by two quick-fire goals in the first-half. Andrea Belotti finished smartly from a neat chip into the area and the lead was doubled when Marco Benassi's shot took a slight defection on its way into the net.
England pressured their opponents in the second-half but were often wayward in their direction of shot. Redmond finally found his shooting boots with a crisp strike, but that was only after slack defending had allowed Benassi to glance his unchallenged header beyond Jack Butland to extend the Italians' advantage. In truth it was indicative of their more clinical finishing, as the Italians capitalised once more on poor England marking at critical stages in the match.
Italy joined England in non-qualification, as Portugal topped the group and Sweden took second place.
Greg Dyke has set the target for the Three Lions to achieve World Cup success at senior level in 2022 and Southgate saw no reason to diverge from that aim at this point. He did stress the need for England to reach the semi-finals and finals in major events to have a chance though. Given that stepping stone being achieved "coupled with experience at the top end of the Premier League", he thought that a sustained World Cup challenge was possible.
Will Southgate stay on?
Southgate was also keen to stay on in the Under-21s coaching role he currently holds, stating that: "I'm contracted to stay on, I'd like to stay on." Whether the England powers that be think that sufficient progress is being made by the Under-21s is quite a different matter, after another poor tournament for them and another early exit. #Football #Youngsters