Thursday, 12 July, 2012
England U19s lose to Greece after extra-time in Euro semi-final.
By Nicholas Veevers in Tallinn
The cruelty of tournament football really hit England hard in Tallinn, as an unlikely victory for ten-man Greece saw the Young Lions head out of this year’s European Championship at the semi-final stage.
With Greece reduced to ten men for over half of the game, England dominated everything but the ‘goals scored’ column as some heroic defending from the Greeks and an inspired performance from substitute goalkeeper Sokratis Dioudis saw the game end all square after 90 minutes.
The onslaught continued into extra-time, but still the Greeks hung on for dear life before taking advantage of a rare slip from England to steal victory with just minutes remaining.
It was a cruel end to the campaign for Noel Blake’s side, who were 12 games unbeaten this season and chasing an historic double by winning the Euro title at both U17 and U19 level but it clearly just wasn’t to be on this occasion.
It was a bright start from England, playing good possession football right from the off, something that would continue throughout the game, but they were just unable to breach a solid Greek defence. They came close though, with John Lundstram’s slide-rule pass into the area just inches out of Saido Berahino’s reach and then Rob Hall’s fine cross from the left was narrowly too high for Benik Afobe.
Greece forced the first save of the game when Giannis Gianniotas’ cross from the right picked out Dimitris Diamantakos in the centre and his header skipped off the wet surface to test Sam Johnstone’s reflexes.
England were always knocking on the door though, with Afobe and Berahino constantly probing from the wide positions. On more than one occasion, Afobe found space on the left but there was always a blue shirt in the area to clear. When things did open up for the Arsenal man in the 29th minute, a fine last-ditch tackle from Mavroudis Bougaidis robbed him of a shooting chance.
It was Greece who were having the better of the opportunities though and when another corner forced England into defensive mode, the ball dropped at the feet of skipper Giorgos Katidis and his low shot from the angle was well blocked by Johnstone. Moments after that, Hall had a more accurate attempt when his whipped, low strike was gathered at the second attempt by ‘keeper Stefanos Kapino.
It was Johnstone who saved England again in the 38th minute, as Gianniotas’ shot from the left was punched over. From the resulting corner, Stafylidis swung it over and the towering figure of Bougaidis rose highest to glance a header home.
England looked to hit straight back and they were almost level within a minute, as Kapino made a great save to block Berahino’s shot in the area straight from the restart. He bettered that from the following corner, as Tom Thorpe’s close range header looked a goal all the way, but Kapino somehow got his hands to it and cleared off the line.
The first-half ended in drama, as Ross Barkley and Hall combined in midfield to send Afobe running clear on goal. He rounded Kapino and fell under a challenge by the ‘keeper, who was subsequently red-carded. It was a harsh decision and Greece were furious as their reaction said it all. Kapino refused to leave the field and there was a delay of three minutes before Dioudis was brought on for Diamantakos.
Hall stepped up to the take the spot-kick, with Greek subs standing directly behind the goal too, but Dioudis made himself an instant hero with a smart save, just seconds before the whistle was sounded for half-time.
Again, it was England who were first out of the traps after the break and really looking to test the Greek back-line although Charalambos Lykogiannis’ free-kick from the right took a sizeable deflection to force Johnstone into a good reaction save with his right foot. A goal for Greece there would have been really against the run of play and with England able to calm things down again, the leveller duly arrived in the 57th minute, when Hall’s whipped cross from the left caused confusion amongst the Greek defence and Afobe was there to head home from close range.
England were looking for a winner now and Berahino had a great chance to put his side ahead when the ball broke to him in the box with only Dioudis to beat, but his shot went straight down the ‘keeper’s throat and he clawed it away.
With the match into the last ten minutes, the Young Lions were giving everything in the search for a late winner whilst Greece resolutely hung on.
Firstly, Barkley’s stinging shot from the edge of the area was saved well by Dioudis, before Redmond tested him again seconds later. A well-worked corner routine from the right saw the ball worked to Redmond again and this time his low effort rolled narrowly wide.
They couldn’t find a way through and so it went to extra time, where Dioudis continued his inspired form, denying Barkley, Garbutt, Hall and Afobe.
Disaster struck for England in the 108th minute though, as a misunderstanding between Nat Chalobah and George Thorne wasn’t cleared up and that allowed Lykogiannis to nick the ball, break clear on goal and lob the ball over a helpless Johnstone and give Greece an unlikely lead.
England threw everything forward in the dying stages, including Johnstone for two late corners, but with Dioudis and his defence seemingly unbeatably and a few lucky bounces here and there, Greece hung on to take their place in the Final.