UEFA Under-21 Euros: Heartbreak for England as France nick it late to prevail 2-1


Tournament favourites England faced a tough assignment as they locked horns with France in their opening game of the European Under-21 Championships.

Despite both sides being European powerhouses and giants of football, neither side have won an Under-21 European Championship in over thirty years. The last triumph was by the Les Bleus, way back in 1988.

It wasn’t just the players that were young on the pitch; 23 year-old referee Srdjan Jovanovic got the game underway with both sides looking to gain the upper-hand in the early proceedings.

England set up in a 4-3-3 system by Aidy Boothroyd, started the better with a talented trio consisting of Hamza Choudary, Phil Foden and James Maddision seeing plenty of the ball.

The latter was the creator of the first chance of the match, whipping in a lovely free-kick from the left flank. Tomori almost got his head on the cross but was clawed away by French keeper, Paul Bernardoni.

After the first ten minutes, it was clear to see why England had earned the favourites tag to win the tournament and seemed to be thriving on their newly-found status. Pressing high and exploiting space behind a high French defence, the Three Lions started the much sharper and settled into their rhythm nicely.

Just moments later England exploited the space in behind when Demarai Gray managed to spring the French offiside trap and attempted to slide the ball across the box to the on-rushing Ryan Sessegnon. However, RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate managed to recover and get a toe on the ball. Fortunately for him, his desperate interception hit the post.

Almost juggernaut like, with every growing minute England were getting stronger. On the quarter of an hour mark Dominic Solanke’s outstretched right-leg managed to get on the end of a cross but saw his effort go agonisingly past the post.

Against the run of play a French header was nodded down and was deemed to be handled by captain Jake Clarke-Salter, who was challenging in the air and seemingly didn’t even know where the ball was. Referee Srdjan Jovanovic pointed to the spot and France were given a penalty.

However, England’s anger was short-lived when Dean Henderson dived to his left to keep out Moussa Dembele’s penalty.

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Moussa Dembele had two clear-cut chances in the first half – Image: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Image

Despite the hiccup, England continued to probe and play through the lines, with Foden and Maddison finding some promising positions.

Once again the French back-line were caught out by their high line when a beautiful switch of play led to Demarai Gray bearing down on the goal, one against one. Gray should have scored but chose to go for the near post which was already covered by Paul Bernardoni and subsequently hit the side netting.

A sloppy pass by Aaron Wan-Bissaka gave France the ball in a threatening position and left Dembele through one against one against Henderson. Yet again Henderson came out the victor in their individual duel with a smart save to his right. Jonathan Ikone Jonathan Ikone

Jonathan IkoneApproaching the conclusion of the first half, France slowly began to get a foothold in the game with England appearing to have the wind taken out of their sails due to the early missed chances.

England were left to rue another glorious opportunity when a quick step-over gave Gray time and space outside the 18-yard box to hit a left-footed shot. The Leicester winger opted for power and saw his strike narrowly go over the bar. In an action-packed first half, both sides showed no lack of ambition in the attacking third with the two attacks regularly threatening the opposing goal-mouth.

With the stakes high, even at the beginning of the tournament, both sides tried to come out of blocks the quicker in the second half. It was the French who won the early race though, pinning the opposition in their half and determined to improve on a steady first 45 minutes.

However, a superb solo run by Phil Foden gave the Three Lions the lead. A run with a touch of genius about him, epitomised the talent the young man possesses. Driving into the box, manipulating the ball with a low centre of gravity, Foden jinked past the French defence and hit a low shot passed the by-standing French goal-keeper.

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Phil Foden celebrates after a magnicient solo effort – Image: GettyImages

On the hour mark England thought they had doubled their lead when Ryan Sessegnon finished off a low cross from Solanke. After some confusion, the linesman ruled the goal off-side due to Solanke being in an offside position when assisting Sessegnon.

In a game that continued to ebb and flow, England were the masters of their own downfall when centre-back Tomori gave the ball away and led to Hamza Choudhury having to make a last ditch tackle to stop France from scoring an almost certain goal. The Leicester man missed the ball and the referee yet again pointed for a spot-kick to the French. Following consultation with VAR, the referee brandished a red card and England were reduced to ten men.

In a match of repeating incidents occurring, another one followed when France missed another penalty. New spot-taker Houssem Aouar hit the post and left Les Bleus still trailing. Nonetheless, England were a man light and had 25 minutes to defend their lead.

Despite the onus placed on France to attack, Boothroyd brought on striking duo Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham to give a creaking French defence something to still think about and a threat on the counter-attack.

Henderson was called into action again ten minutes from time when Ikone cut in from the left and forced the Man United keeper into a superb reflex save.

France were barraging the England goal-mouth with constant waves of attack. Ten man England were throwing the bodies on the line, desperate to take three points from their first match. Two centre-halves Tomori and Clarke-Salter made goal-saving blocks as England hung on for dear life.

Eventually, France got what had been coming and broke England’s resistance. Nanitamo Ikone hit a low shot through the legs of Clarke-Salter and went past Henderson at the near post.

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Image: BBC Sport

Jonathan IkoneFive minutes were added on in stoppage time with France now seeking the win. England, who had defended so heroically for the most part, were subjected to hanging on for the point.

In the 95th minute, Aaron Wan-Bissaka hit the ball into his own net from a defending corner in an attempt to clear the ball. Heartbreak for England who could argue France shouldn’t have had the corner after refusing to give the ball back to England after a drop-kick moments before.

The final whistle blew meaning France came away with the three points and a great chance of progressing into the knock-out stages. Aidy Boothroyd’s men will have a case to feel injustice after key decisions in the match going against them.

Team Line-ups:

England: Dean Henderson; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter (c), Jay Dasilva; James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury (Red Card 63′), Phil Foden; Ryan Sessegnon (Calvert-Lewin 74′), Dominic Solanke (Mount 70′), Demarai Gray (Abraham 74′).

France: Paul Bernardoni; Colin Dagba, Ibrahima Konate, Dayot Upamecano, Fode Toure; Lucas Tousart (c) (Mateta 72′), Houssem Aouar (Marcus Thuram 82′), Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Nanitamo Ikone; Moussa Dembele, Jonathan Bamba (Olivier Ntcham 66′).



About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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