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.

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
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

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star