And so the final humiliation. What is expected to be final act of Stuart Pearce's reign with the England Under-21 team was another deserved defeat and with it their worst ever performance in the finals. Only Israel themselves, who somehow qualify for Eurovision Song Contests as well as European football, have previously ever returned 'nul points', which they did in the 2007 tournament. Back in those days Pearce's England pups were regarded as brave fighters who only lost the semi-final in one of the longest ever shoot-outs. From reaching the final two years later, his sides have regressed to tonight's low point.
While he will take much of the blame and pay with his job after winning only three matches out of 15 at his four tournaments, Pearce announced in a show of defiance that it was time for the players to accept their share of responsibility. “I'm not coming out here and defending anyone,” he said. “I'm sick to the back teeth of doing that in this tournament. If you don't turn up and work hard enough, you won't get any success and that was typical of today and probably the two games prior to it. They should be here answering questions on why their performances were so poor.”
Unfortunately none of those questioned since the first defeat by Italy, which was followed by a 3-1 humbling by Norway, seemed to have any idea of the reasons. The only suggestion from within the dressing-room was that some players gave the impression of wanting to be on holiday rather than putting their reputations on the line.
As an illustration of the broader problem facing English football, Israel's winning goal was made by Omri Altman, who has been at Fulham for two years without yet making the first team. He had already set up the captain Nir Biton to hammer a shot against the bar from 25 yards with Jason Steele groping.
Watched by the senior team manager Roy Hodgson, England started with seven of the ten players who are available for the next qualifying campaign, which begins in September in a group also including Wales. They do not offer great hope that the campaign will be significantly better. Jordan Henderson, who is no longer eligible, had to be summoned at half-time because the central midfield pairing of Chelsea's Nat Chalobah and Josh McEachran had been particularly disappointing; McEachran looking like a player who has gone backwards.
Wilfried Zaha, given another chance after a poor game against Norway, Tom Ince, who was replaced at half-time and Connor Wickham were all ineffective again. They did not make a chance in the whole of the second half and were beaten in the 80th minute when a clever passing move ended with Ofir Krieff driving in a low shot from 20 yards.
The noisy crowd of 22,813 loved it all and there was no obvious evidence of the hard-line Beitar Jerusalem supporters, who object to Israeli-Arab players (the home country fielded two), causing any problems.
England 4-2-3-1: Steele; Clyne, Lees, Wisdom (capt), Rose; McEachran (Redmond, 71), Chalobah (Sordell, 78); Zaha, Shelvey, Ince (Henderson, 46); Wickham.Reuse content