England Under-21s 1 Norway Under-21s 3 match report: England out and Stuart Pearce set to follow
Under-21s again fall short in the finals of a tournament as second defeat speeds exit from European Championship and also spells the end for manager's reign
Stuart Pearce has been talking for six years about the importance of tournament football, and last night he and his young charges were reminded of an immutable truth learnt at painful cost by many an England team down the years: however impressive the record in qualification matches and the run-up to the finals – and this squad had won 14 out of 15 since the last ones – it is what happens once the real thing starts that matters.
This second defeat of the week means England are out of the European Championship even before they got going and Pearce is almost certainly out of a job. His contract is up at the end of the month and it is the duty of the FA's Sir Trevor Brooking to tell him that the time for change has come.
Knowing England, they will now go out with all guns blazing against the host country Israel on Tuesday, but the mathematical permutations mean it cannot matter.
Some of Pearce's arguments, such as the regular absence of key players, are valid and need looking at. Last night he repeated his view that, "The team that takes their best players will win the tournament, the teams that don't won't, they'll go home early. You need teams to come with their strongest players and most senior internationals."
There is little appetite at this stage for excuses, however justified. Pearce did not attempt to hide the nature of two below-par peformances when he admitted: "We've got out of the tournament so far what we deserve and that's not much. Not enough of the players delivered a performance that was befitting of them. They have more quality than they showed." As to the job, he confirmed his desire to stay, which seems wishful thinking.
As ever, the players must take responsibility too. It was a sobering reminder of football in a country like Norway that Fredrik Semb Berge, the central defender who opened the scoring, is part-owned by a Norwegian lottery winner, who paid £280,000 of his £11.5million EuroJackpot to help keep him at his unfashionable club Odd Grenland. Meanwhile, England's young would-be millionaires have struggled to make any impression.
The evening began in controversy as the DJ at the ground played a rap song containing the N-word before kick-off, prompting Uefa to say they will review procedures.
On the pitch, Wilfried Zaha, fit to start for the first time in the tournament, played through the middle for England with no success in the first half and was then pushed out wide to no greater effect. Sunderland's Connor Wickham came on but never threatened. As in the first game, Birmingham's Nathan Redmond was one of the few who offered any promise, until he was replaced, while Chelsea's Nathaniel Chabolah – one of five changes from the Italy match – was worth his place. Other consolations were hard to find.
Once again, crucial breaks went against England. After one centre-half, Craig Dawson, had a goal mysteriously disallowed against Italy, his partner Steven Caulker suffered the same fate at 2-0, when retrieving one would have given a badly needed boost.
Dawson – worryingly England's highest scorer in the qualifying games – pulled a goal back instead at 3-0 with 33 minutes to play. More importantly, he and Caulker were often outsmarted when doing their main job at the back. The remarkable defensive record coming into the tournament was made to look all the more extraordinary by England's vulnerability.
Even the highly regarded goalkeper Jack Butland suffered and Tottenham's Caulker was regularly caught out. Having conceded only one goal in the previous 10 games – Italy's winner last Wednesday – they shipped two more in the first 34 minutes here and were chasing the game from then on.
By half-time, Pearce's team had enjoyed 74 per cent of possession and were two goals behind. The first came after Butland had misjudged a corner from the right, conceding another which England failed to clear. Magnus Eikrem, the taker, returned it and, with England apparently appealing for handball, Semb Berge scored low down. If that goal was scrappy, the second was exquisite. Havard Nielsen brought the ball down and slipped it through to Jo Inge Berget, whose clever run had left Caulker for dead.
Butland had no chance, and nor did he with the third seven minutes after the interval. Marcus Pedersen sped past Dawson down the right and cut his pass back perfectly for Eikrem, a player with nine senior caps, to thrash the ball home.
Wild optimism was fuelled by Dawson's penalty after he himself had been fouled, but Norway held out comfortably against a series of high balls.
Their old Middlesbrough striker Jan Aage Fjortoft summed it up succinctly: "One team with players who want to play in England against players who play in England and want to go on holiday."
England (4-2-3-1): Butland; Smith, Caulker, Dawson (Wisdom, 85), Rose; Chalobah, Lowe (Wickham, 46); Ince, Henderson, Redmond (Shelvey, 67); Zaha.
Norway (4-3-3): Haskjold; Elabdellaoui, Rogne (Nordtveit, 83), Semb Berge (Linnes, 57), Strandberg; Singh, Johansen, Eikrem (Ibrahim, 68); Berget, Pedersen, Nielsen.
Referee S Boiko (Ukraine).
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