Football: Heskey's early goal provides a boost

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France Under-21 1 England Under-21 1

ENGLAND opened their campaign at the annual Toulon Under-21 tournament with an early goal from Leicester's Emile Heskey last night - but it was not enough to win the game as France fought back to equalise.

Seven out of the 11 players who started the game were making their international debuts, but in the first half they showed little nerves, and after 11 minutes England got off to the perfect start. Frank Lampard's through ball found Jason Euell, whose low cross to the far post was met by Heskey, who tapped in from close range.

It could have been even worse for the host country when Euell was sent free with only the French goalkeeper Michael Landreau to beat, but his tame shot was well saved.

Midway through the first half England had to thank their goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen, for keeping his side in the game. A French attack appeared to have fizzled out but the ball fell to Cedric Mouret on the edge of the box and his awkward bouncing shot produced a marvellous save from the Tranmere man.

The introduction at half-time of Louis Saha changed the game. The pacy forward caused England problems as France camped in the England half. They almost equalised when Frederick Kanoute raced on to a long ball, but his lob hit the bar and fell to safety.

Only heroic defending kept France at bay. In the 57th minute Simonsen had to change direction to stop a deflected shot but could only push the ball into the path of Saha, whose shot was cleared off the line by Jamie Carragher.

Eventually, though, the French onslaught paid dividends and 11 minutes from time they equalised through Saha. He wriggled his way through the English defence and kept his balance despite being impeded to hit a low shot under the advancing Simonsen.

However, England almost snatched victory when Heskey hit the bar nine minutes from time and Euell, following up, hit a shot which was well saved by Landreau.

England's coach, Peter Taylor, said: "We hung in there, although we were lucky near the end."

ENGLAND UNDER-21: Simonsen (Tranmere); Curtis (Manchester Utd), Rogers (Nottingham Forest), Purse (Birmingham), Marsh (Oxford Utd), Kozluk (Derby), Carragher (Liverpool), Lampard (West Ham), Oakley (Southampton), Heskey (Leicester), Euell (Wimbledon). Substitutes: Elliott (Derby) for Marsh, 59, Clegg (Manchester Utd) for Kozluk, 63, Allen (Tottenham) for Euell, 74.

FRANCE UNDER-21: Landreau; Domi, Silvestre, Camara, Henin (Saha, h-t), Hendani, Cisse, Dabo (Jager, 63), Mouret, Kanoute (Proment, 69), Moreira.

Referee: M Albretch (Germany).