Pearce's boys sent home early after late goals shatter England
England Under-21 1 Czech Republic Under-21 2
Stuart Pearce's England's squad will stage an early retreat from their hotel this morning, eliminated from the European Under-21 Championship after conceding twice in the last few minutes of a game they had to win.
Daniel Welbeck's headed goal a quarter of an hour from the end last night seemed to have brought the victory they required to eliminate the Czech Republic, who until that point had looked comfortable. But in the last three minutes a previously solid defence was prised apart twice to send the Czechs through to a semi-final against Switzerland.
There was irony in that, since centre-halves Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, and the goalkeeper Frankie Fielding have all enhanced their reputations. As one goal in three games illustrated, however, too much reliance had been put on that rearguard because of a chronic lack of creativity in the unfortunate absence of Arsenal's Jack Wilshere. While the lucky 1-1 draw against Spain in the opening game was an unexpected bonus, England suffered from a conservative approach against Ukraine and from not scoring enough goals overall: two in three matches, both by Welbeck.
As is often the case at tournaments, other individuals did not live up to their reputation - most notably Jordan Henderson, who was hauled off after barely an hour last night, and the captain Michael Mancienne, who was dropped. Jones, the youngest player but one in the squad at 19, was given the armband, which emphasised the paucity of natural leaders. As usual with England at all levels, there were notable absentees too, including Wilshere, Andy Carroll, Lee Cattermole and Micah Richards. So those who were here will have to be satisfied with brief tournament experience rather than a rare English winning experience.
Pearce was correct that England found themselves in by far the stronger of the two groups, but that made it all the more imperative to defeat Ukraine, the weakest opponents. A conservative approach in that game brought no more than a draw and left the young squad vulnerable to the sort of twist of fate that occurred right at the finish.
The Czechs were not content to play for a draw initially, although it soon became clear with Spain winning that one point was all they would require. There was some more constructive building from the back by England, with Fielding encouraged at last to throw the ball out, but as in previous games Henderson struggled to find the right pass. The Czech's passing was much sharper and led to the best moment of the first half, when Bundesliga player Jan Moravek, billed as the new Tomas Rosicky, was set up for a volley that Fielding did well to turn for a corner. The goalkeeper's opposite number, Tomas Vaclik, matched that well when Scott Sinclair used his pace to cut inside and shoot from 20 yards. England's best chance otherwise stemmed from an incisive pass by Jones to Ryan Bertrand, whose cross was volleyed into the side-netting by Tom Cleverley.
The crowd of just over 5,000 were seeing what they must have expected and the second half followed an equally predictable pattern. England pushed forward with increasing desperation and the Czechs became content to absorb what pressure there was and then counter-attack.
Sturridge swapped places with Cleverley for the second half, moving wide, and crossed for Welbeck to head his second crucial goal of the tournament. But from the 88th minute onwards England fell apart. As they failed to clear a routine cross, Marcel Gecov centered for an equaliser from Jan Chramosta, who then fed the former Southampton striker Tomas Pekhart to score with the last kick of the game; and, for England, of the tournament.
England (4-2-3-1): Fielding (Derby): Walker (Tottenham), Smalling (Manchester United), Jones (Blackburn), Bertrand (Chelsea): Henderson (Liverpool), Muamba (Bolton): Cleverley (Manchester United), Sturridge (Chelsea), Sinclair (Swansea): Welbeck (Manchester United).
Replacements: Lansbury (Arsenal for Henserson 63); Albrighton (Aston Villa for Cleverley 75); Roseose (Tottenham for Sinclair 87)
Czech Republic (4-1-4-1): Vaclik: Celustka, Suchy, Mazuch, Lecjaks: Gecov: Dockal, Marecek, Moravek (Chramosta, 83), Kovarik (Cerny, 67); Kozak (Pekhart, 83).
Referee : P Tagliavento (Italy)
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