England rescued by Richards

England U-21 2 Finland U-21 1

England, whose last European Under-21 Championship adventure two years ago was bursting with incident, gave this year's finals in Sweden an eventful start as they struggled to see off a hard-working Finnish side.



The Finns had proved to possess teeth and puppy-like enthusiasm even before Stuart Pearce's side, having taken the lead through Lee Cattermole, had Michael Mancienne sent off for conceding the penalty from which the equaliser arrived. Pearce, having promised there would be no special treatment here for Theo Walcott, proved true to his word, substituting the Arsenal winger at the interval after an ineffective first half. Micah Richards' fine header then earned an invaluable, if laboured, opening win.

At the final whistle it was Finland, playing in their first tournament finals, who performed a lap of honour – their fans having turned Freddie Ljungberg's old stamping ground into a home game – as England's 10 men walked wearily off on a warm evening to contemplate the demanding battles to come. "They have got to do a lot better than that to have an impact on this tournament," Pearce said. "But when you wake up in the morning, the only thing that matters is those three points."

England had taken the safe option in midfield, using Bolton's Fabrice Muamba as a holding man. Adam Johnson of Middlesbrough was the unlucky player sacrificed, but extra midfield support turned out to be the sensible option as the Finns hassled, chased and knocked long passes forward.

West Ham's Mark Noble, the new captain as Steven Taylor was one of seven injured players unable to make the squad, was named man of the match for an industrious performance that suited the nature of a game whose shape changed after the sending-off. There were early warnings when Kieran Gibbs clipped Berat Sadik's heels, before Mancienne and the goalkeeper Joe Hart were indecisive in dealing with another of Finland's long balls down the centre. They escaped that time, but not in the 31st minute, when the Chelsea defender found himself pressurised by Sadik, panicked and brought him down.

Pearce agreed it was a penalty, which was tucked away neatly by Tim Sparv, an old housemate of Walcott and Martin Cranie at Southampton. Sparv then led a charge of all 10 Finnish outfield players over the barrier to celebrate, the referee declining to book all or any of them. Cranie had to move from right-back to centre-half, where he performed well, with James Milner, who was winning his 43rd cap at this level, dropping to full-back.

The original plan had been to use Milner and Walcott out wide with Gabriel Agbonlahor between them, allowing the Villa striker to use his pace and power down the centre. That worked well for the opening goal as England finally threatened after quarter of an hour spent mainly on the back foot. Milner produced the pass for his club-mate, who nudged Jonas Portin aside and laid the ball back for Cattermole. The Wigan midfielder scuffed his shot, which bounced rather apologetically in off Jukka Raitala and then the goalkeeper.

Pearce sent Fraizer Campbell on for Walcott and was rewarded with a goal six minutes into the second half. Milner's curling free-kick was pushed for a corner, from which Richards lost his marker and headed powerfully in.

England Under-21s (4-3-3): Hart (Manchester City); Cranie (Portsmouth), Richards (Manchester City), Mancienne (Chelsea), Gibbs (Arsenal); Cattermole (Wigan Athletic), Muamba (Bolton), Noble (West Ham United); Walcott (Arsenal), Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Milner (Aston Villa). Substitutes: Campbell (Man Utd) for Walcott, h-t; Rodwell for Agbonlahor 86; Tomkins (West Ham) for Richards 89.

Finland Under-21s (4-2-3-1): Jaakkola (Siena); Aho (International Turku), Portin (Jaro), Turunen (Honka Espoo), Raitala (HJK Helsinki); Sparv (Halmstad), M Hetemaj (Thrasivoulos Fylis); Hamalainen (TPS Turku), Parikka (HJK Helsinki), P Hetemaj (AEK Athens); Sadik (Arminia Bielefeld). Substitutes: Pukki (Seville) for Parrika, 65; Vasara (Honka Espoo) for Hamalainen, 80.

Referee: C Cakir (Turkey).

*In the other match in Group B last night, Spain and Germany drew 0-0 in Gothenburg.

Remember the name: Marcus Berg, Groningen and Sweden

From the small town in Sweden that gave us Sven Goran Eriksson came a more talented footballer who may yet become Torsby's most famous son. Berg, due to play against Belarus tonight, won the Swedish League with IFK Gothenburg as a 21-year-old, earning a £2.5m move to the Netherlands. Two-footed and a fine finisher, he already has seven caps for the senior Sweden team.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor