The Young Lions drew 3-3 with Croatia in their final Under-21 Euros outing, meaning a heavily hyped team are heading home without having won a match
Even though England’s elimination from the European Under-21 Championship had been confirmed after just two games, goalkeeper Dean Henderson claimed, “I still believe we are the best team in the tournament.”
Unfortunately, while The Young Lions talked a great game in Italy, they never played one.
Monday night’s 3-3 draw with Croatia in their final Group C outing means that they have at least bowed out with point but it offered scant consolation for a side that had been expected to challenge for the title.
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe England’s players believed their own hype.
They had reasons to be confident, of course. They had qualified undefeated, conceding just four goals in the process.
But their limitations – and their defence – were horribly exposed in Italy.
They shipped nine goals in just three matches. To be brutally honest, they could have conceded more.
England led three times against Croatia, thanks to Reiss Nelson’s early penalty, James Maddison’s composed finish and a fine long-range strike from Jonjoe Kenny.
However, ultimately, it was only their opponents’ profligacy ensured the scores finished level.
Indeed, was the Croats who threated to net a winner after Josip Brekalo’s second goal of the game.
The Wolfsburg winger was particularly impressive, with his pace having caused England’s dreadfully slow backline persistent problems.
At the other end, Arsenal-owned winger Nelson also justified his first appearance in the competition, winning and converting a spot-kick, while striker Tammy Abraham caused problems all night up front.
That England boss Aidy Boothroyd had decided to freshen up his attack was hardly surprising, with his side already out.
It was puzzling, though, to see Phil Foden recalled. The Manchester City midfielder had started on the bench against Romania as Boothroyd bizarrely sought to “manage his minutes”.
So, why on earth did he play 90 minutes of a dead rubber and just 35 of a must-win match three days previously?
Tougher questions than that will now be asked of Boothroyd and his players after their failure to end England’s wait for a first European Under-21 Championship title since 1984.
Henderson admitted beforehand, “With the group of players we have, we have really under-achieved.”
There can be no arguing with the Manchester United goalkeeper on that front. But the idea that England remain the best team in the tournament has been well and truly obliterated. In truth, they are among the weakest.
Hopefully lessons will be learned, chief among them that there is a fine line between confidence and complacency.
Those that talk the talk really have to walk to walk.
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