Late heartache for Lions
Sunday, 19 June, 2011
Two late goals send Czech Republic into Euro semis at England's expense.
by Jamie Bradbury in Viborg
Two late Czech goals robbed England of their first victory in Denmark and sent them out of the UEFA Under-21s European Championship Finals in agonising fashion.
It all looked to be going to plan as Czech Republic rarely threatened. Stuart Pearce’s men worked to break down their resolute defence, and when Danny Welbeck finally gave England the lead with 14 minutes left, a place in the last four looked on.
But substitutes Jan Chramosta and Tomas Pekhart popped up with two goals in the final three minutes for a dramatic turnaround which ended England’s Euro dreams.
They knew before they got here that they’d need to score and claim the three points, so Pearce made three attacking changes, with Scott Sinclair and Fabrice Muamba making their first starts in the Finals in place of Danny Rose and Michael Mancienne. Meanwhile Tom Cleverley was recalled for Jack Rodwell and defender Phil Jones was handed the captain’s armband.
Sinclair was at the heart of two early moves for England that almost created an opener, but two offside flags halted them, even though Daniel Sturridge volleyed into the net.
Another neat move saw Sturridge turn provider with a reverse pass into Danny Welbeck inside the box. The Manchester United man did well, but his shot was routine for goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
Though England had the better of the attacking play it was the Czechs who had the best chances when Libor Kozak nodded into the path of Lukas Marecek and he caught his volley well, forcing a fine one-handed save from Frank Fielding.
From the resulting corner, Sinclair broke. He spread wide to Sturridge on the right who cut in on his favoured left, but his curling strike was easy for Vaclik.
England were finding it difficult to get through a stern Czech defence that got behind the ball in numbers, but they played patient football and when Jones burst forward and played to the left wing position where Ryan Bertrand was arriving, the Chelsea man clipped in a teasing cross to the far post. It just evaded his club mate Sturridge, but Cleverley at the back post connected well, though the ball struck the side-netting.
It was the link-up play on the left between Bertrand and Sinclair that looked like the Three Lions' main threat and the Swansea City man came within a whisker of finding the back of the net; his run inside ended with a fine drive which Vaclik tipped over at full stretch.
It was a similar pattern in the opening stages of the second period, with England probing but finding red shirts blocking their way.
Cleverley had a try just before the hour mark when he turned on the edge of the area after receiving a pass from Sturridge, but his left-foot shot was always going over the bar.
Jones continued to push his side on, as he had done in the two previous games, with runs from deep with the ball. One forced a foul in a dangerous area on the left, and from the resulting set-piece it dropped kindly for Kyle Walker 25 yards from goal, but his effort was off target.
Pearce then made his first change bringing on Henri Lansbury, impressive from the bench against both Spain and Ukraine, for Henderson. However, it was his team mate Bertrand who was called into action inside his own area, blocking a powerful strike from Jan Moravek.
Lansbury did have an instant impact at the other end, starting a positive attack and playing a neat pass wide for Sinclair. His cross was dangerous but was turned away for a corner.
The Three Lions needed some magic, needed a chance and with 76 minutes played, it finally came.
England worked the ball down the left hand side, Sturridge was patient and then curled in a dangerous in-swinger towards the near post to where Welbeck was looming. He rose well and directed a powerful header which Vaclik could only push into the top corner.
The Czechs now needed to change their tact, but England just raised their tempo, looking for a second. Two heavy challenges on Sturridge and Welbeck handed England two dangerous free-kicks. Lansbury’s was close, rippling the outside of the net, then Sturridge stuck his effort into the crowd.
Marc Albrighton came on for his tournament debut, though it was Sturridge’s pace causing concern on the right. He almost carved another opening for Welbeck inside the six-yard box, but the defence scrambled clear.
The Czechs, now chasing a goal to keep them in the Euros, then introduced their top scorer in qualifying Tomas Pekhart and Jan Chramosta and it was the latter who pounced on a deflected cross inside England’s six-yard box to draw them level. And Pekhart then sealed victory in the last seconds to send the Czechs into the semis and England home.