Sexton happy in defeat

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The Independent Online
Dave Sexton, the England Under-21 coach, takes his squad to the Toulon tournament next month in buoyant mood despite a 1-0 defeat by Croatia at Sunderland on Tuesday night.

Sexton was delighted with the way his stand-by players equipped themselves after six original members of his cast dropped out.

Richard Rufus, the Charlton defender, was one of eight new caps and marked his debut by being named captain. Rufus came within inches of opening the scoring when a header thumped against the bar and Sexton said: "I thought he was tremendous."

England rallied in the second half after Jurica Vucko had scored in the 34th minute, taking advantage as goalkeeper Chris Day beat away a shot from Ante Covic. Vucko nearly added a second before Ben Thatcher and then Chris Holland threatened the Croat goal. "It was a great work-out for us and a lot of good things came out of the game,'' Sexton said. "I told the lads not to be too disappointed. It was a highly competitive game and they rose to the challenge.

"The difference was that Croatia converted one of their chances. They have good skill and work hard for each other. That is quite a combination. As a nation they have always produced good footballers yet somehow have missed out on major honours. Perhaps that will change one day.

"It was quite a hard introduction for some of my lads but this experience will stand them in good stead, I am sure of that."

The Croats always looked the more comfortable of the two sides on the ball and Vucko was a constant threat, as was Ivan Juric in midfield and Davor Vugrinec up front.

Newcastle's Holland showed in flashes why his manager, Kevin Keegan, reckons he is similar in style to Paul Gascoigne. Rufus read the game well at the back while Terry Cooke and Bruce Dyer tried hard to get England back into the match.

Sexton now takes his squad to the south of France before embarking on the European qualifiers in September. Toulon will give him another selection guideline as the opposition comes in the shape of Angola, Belgium, Brazil and Portugal.

England were losing semi-finalists last year when they included the Manchester United players, Phil Neville and David Beckham.