Final hurdle proves step too far for England’s youngsters

Ukraine U-19 2 England U-19 0
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The Independent Online

Whether you take the positive that England reached the final of both the European Under-21 and Under-19 championships this summer, or sink beneath the gloom of two defeats, depends on whether you habitually see a glass as being half-full or half-empty, but even those of the sunniest disposition must worry about the pattern that has emerged this summer.

Fine strikes from Denys Garmash and Dmytro Korkishko at the beginning of each half gave Ukraine a first victory in an international football tournament at any level, the perfect way to bid farewell to the Olympyskyi Stadium before it yields to the Donbass Arena which, located just across the road, looms in the dust like some enormous spaceship. With a capacity almost double that of the Olympyskyi's 28,000, it will be formally opened on 29 August, and – in theory – will host a semi-final at Euro 2012.

Hrihoriy Surkis, the president of the Football federation of Ukraine, has his critics but one thing he has got right since taking the job in 2000 has been rejuvenating the old club academies that had fallen into disrepair as state funding dried up in the early 1990s. This triumph is his vindication.

For England, though, while another final – England reached the final of the European Under-19s in 2005, and this generation were beaten in the final of the Under-17s two years ago – speaks of promise, there was a sense here of falling prey to the same old failings. Under-19 is probably a little old for fairy-stories, but as the Big Bad Wolf found in the Tale of the Three Little Pigs, eventually you come up against a structure that cannot be blown down by huffing and puffing alone.

Having fallen behind after five minutes, as Garmash, darting across the near post to meet Korkishko's corner swept a side-foot volley past Jason Steele, England had almost complete control of a first half that consisted of little but corners and free-kicks. Nathan Delfouneso, the tournament's top-scorer, was on the wrong end of a borderline offside decision as he ran on to Daniel Drinkwater's chipped through-ball and headed past the goalkeeper Igor Levchenko, but that was as close as England came.

That they were so ineffective was partly down to Ukraine's rearguard – Temur Partsvaniya and Serhiy Kryvtsov were excellent at centre-back, while Kyrylo Petrov was again impeccable at the back of the midfield – but also a lack of imagination. Dan Gosling, Henri Lansbury and Drinkwater have all had decent tournaments, but yesterday they lacked invention. When in doubt, the motto seems to be, whack a long diagonal.

Even at 1-0 England never looked like getting back into it, and Ukraine's win was confirmed five minutes into the second half as Korkishko arced a glorious free-kick into the top corner.

England (4-3-3): Steele; Tripier, Walker, Briggs (Hoyte, 56), Mattock; Gosling, Drinkwater (Tutte, 55), Lansbury; Delfouneso, Wellbeck (Ranger, 64), Butler. Substitutes not used: Rudd (gk), Murphy, Townsend.

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