UNDER-21 EUROS: GROUP A ROUND-UP

Under21Euros

GroupA

20130611 - U21Euros - Group A

Italy and Norway head in the semi-finals, Israel finally grabbed a win for their fans and England head home tomorrow in disgrace with only one goal (a penalty) and no points. Here’s Andy Powell and Will Burns with a review of today’s action.

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ISRAEL 1-0 ENGLAND

England bowed out of the Under-21 European Championship with a whimper losing by one goal to nil thanks to great second half strike by Ofir Krieff in the 80th minute. The game, played in front of 15,000 native Israelis producing an uncharacteristically good atmosphere for this tournament, favoured the team who could score. Both teams had efforts on goal, with England just shading the best of the chances; however could not get anywhere near the net, and Israel looking more inventive on the break.

England started marginally brighter creating a few chances but it did not take Israel long to get into the game, with Sintayehu Sallalich testing ‘keeper Jason Steele from an acute angle and Nathaniel Clyne deflected a hopeful Israel Zaguri strike behind for a corner.

The visitors, making seven changes to the starting line-up, had their best spell in the 10 minutes before half time with Wickham and Zaha twice going closed. The England team was selected with the next tournament in mind, and their inexperience was beginning to show.

Mid-way through the second half Israel captain Nir Biton blasted the ball from 30 yards towards the goal, beating Steele and hitting the bar. The shot was that powerful the ball landed back at the feet of Biton who could not capitalise on the second chance. Israel Zaguri went close, spotting Steele off his line, and tried his luck with a chip, with Steele batting the ball clear. Fulham’s Omri Altman, on as a substitute, tried to make a name for himself soon after, making a beeline for the goal, beating a poor challenge from Jordan Henderson but only managing to run into the post.

The hosts’ pressure soon told, though. Biton played the ball for Altman to lay off to Krieff, who lashed home a low effort from 20 yards with 10 minutes remaining. Manager Guy Luzon, leaving for Standard Liege after this match, celebrated as through he won the world cup and rightly so beating a scalp like England.

Where does this leave Stuart Pearce’s England? With Pearce’s contract up next month, and England manager Roy Hodgson and FA’s David Bernstein in attendance, surely it must mean the Under-21 team must go in a different direction. Dispense of the old England rules of the first team coming first and giving Under-21 players tournament experience like the top nations Spain, Holland, Germany to name but a few) this should feed through to the senior set up.

Taking nothing away from Israel however they were bright and inventive and fully deserved their win, well done Israel.

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Andy Powell

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ITALY 1-1 NORWAY

In a dramatic ending to the match, Andrea Bertolacci’s equaliser with the last kick of the game gave Italy a 1-1 draw with Norway, so they top their group. The Italians will play the second-placed team in Group B later this week in the semi-finals.

It was quite a finish to the match with two goals in stoppage time eventually seeing the Azzurri and the Norwegians shared the points in a dramatic conclusion. The result meant that Italy heads into the semi-finals on seven points and will play the second-placed team in Group B. Meanwhile, Norway also qualifies for the semi-finals with five points from their three games to face the Group B table toppers.

With the teams playing their third game in six days, both sides rang the changes. Italy coach Devis Mangia decided to rest Marco Verratti and Fabio Borini, while Lorenzo Insigne was not risked after spraining his ankle in the 4-0 win over Israel on Saturday. Roma attacker Mattia Destro was partnered by AC Milan youngster Alberto Paloschi up front with Riccardo Sapanora picked to play in an advanced supporting role.

In the early stages, Italy kept possession well but Norway pressed high up the pitch. It was a tight start to the match but the Norwegians were looking more encouraging and tried to force the issue going forward.

On 16 minutes, in the first real chance of the game, Parma striker Nicola Sansone finished a strong run into the final third by driving from distance towards goal. His powerful strike was central enough to allow goalkeeper Arild Østbø to make a routine save, his first of many throughout the match.

Norwegian captain, Vegar Eggen Hedenstad was an intimidating figure in the middle throughout and thwarted many Italian’s attacks as they started to get into the game midway into the first half.

As the Italian pressure mounted, it was Østbø that kept his side in the game. On 32 minutes, a Fausto Rossi effort was deflected off target, then from the resulting corner a fingertip save for the ‘keeper denied Italy captain Luca Caldirola’s header from six yards.

Østbø then performed another fantastic save to slow down Destro’s angled drive, as defenders dived in to prevent Sansone tapping in the loose ball. It finished goal-less on the half-time whistle but after the break, the goalkeeper was involved again.

Andrea Bertolacci replaced Saponara, but Mangia’s side were unable to capitalise on Østbø spilling a corner after a desperate clearance from Sansone’s whipping cross. Destro missed a glorious opportunity on the hour mark, after springing the offside trap and slipping the ball past the big goalie, the Roma striker blazed the ball into the side netting.

Moments later, Destro again missed another great chance, blasting the opportunity over the bar from close range.

This gave Norway hope and they looked for a goal themselves and Italy escaped a scare on 70 minutes. Hedenstad unleashed a ferocious drive from 30 yards out, and the defender’s swerving strike travelled at great speed towards the goal, eventually clipping the crossbar before bouncing behind. Italian ‘keeper Francesco Bardi looked to get a late touch on the ball in the replays which must go down as a magnificent save given the power behind the strike from range.

On 90 minutes, referee awarded a soft penalty, with Caldirola penalised for pushing Stefan Strandberg in the penalty area from a free kick. Defender Strandberg decided to take the spot kick himself and sent a precise low effort beyond Baldi and into the bottom corner to force the Norwegians to the top of the group. This was the first goal that the Italians had conceded in the three games of the tournament.

In the final kick of the game, Bertolacci hit a incredible acrobatic leveller. Norway struggled to clear and the impressive Østbø failed to clutch his hands around the ball. Bertolacci with his back to goal, hooked a shot over his head and looped it over Strandberg on the line and into the corner of the goal.

It was a point that Italy deserved and the two best teams in the group will continue their quest for the Championship in the semi-finals, and will find out their opponents (against either Spain or Holland) after tomorrow’s game.

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WillBurns

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