Football: England undermined

Poland Under-21 3 England Under-21 1
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ENGLAND'S HOPES of becoming the first team to win their European Under-21 qualifying group with a 100 per cent record and without conceding a goal were shattered here yesterday.

Howard Wilkinson's much-changed side chose this match to produce the worst performance of the campaign and were outplayed by a Polish team inspired by Pawel Sobczak.

England might have been without six players from the side that beat Luxembourg 5-0 on Friday but their problems stemmed from so many failing to live up to their reputations. The normally reliable back three of Jamie Carragher, Danny Mills and Matthew Upson were given a torrid time and the outcome could have been even more embarrassing but for several fine first-half saves by Nicky Weaver. But it was a terrible misjudgement by the Manchester City goalkeeper in the second half that sealed England's fate. The visitors struggled in midfield, with the exception of Steven Gerrard and in attack only the substitute Darius Vassell, of Aston Villa, caused Poland any problems.

England, who now head for the play-offs, clung on in the first half, but after only 60 seconds of the second half Lukasz Kubik put the home side in front when he beat Weaver to Miroslaw Spizak's cross at the near post.

England briefly retaliated and two minutes later Mills equalised after a corner from Paul Robinson was met by Vassell. His effort was blocked, but Mills knocked in the loose ball.

England's revival was undermined by some calamitous defending that let Poland score twice in four minutes. In the 57th minute, James Beattie missed an attempted clearance header following a free-kick and the ball broke to Sobczak. His cross was headed home by the substitute, Tomasz Dawidowski.

England became increasingly ragged and in the 61st minute Weaver allowed a cross by Sobczak to go into the net off the far post.

POLAND UNDER-21: Bledzewski; Glowacki, Terlecki, Baszczynski, Bieniuk, Radomski, Kosowski, Sobczak (Sosin, 90), Spizak (Dawidowski, 55), Bonk (Sokolowski, 70), Kubik.

ENGLAND UNDER-21: Weaver (Manchester City); Curtis (Manchester United), Robinson (Watford), Carragher (Liverpool), Mills (Leeds United), Upson (Arsenal), Greening (Manchester United), Gerrard (Liverpool), Beattie (Southampton), Cort (Wimbledon), Morris (Chelsea). Substitutes used: Vassell (Aston Villa) for Cort, h-t; Woodhouse (Sheffield United) for Curtis, 65; Thompson (Liverpool) for Greening, 80;.

Referee: P Garabian (Fr).