Lions draw Euro opener
Tuesday, 03 July, 2012
Nathaniel Chalobah strike earns England U19s a point against Croatia.
By Nicholas Veevers in Tallinn
England started their European Championship campaign off with a draw, as Croatia survived a late onslaught from the Young Lions to ensure both sides made a solid start to the competition.
It was something of a game of two halves, with an out-of-sorts first-half performance from England more than corrected in a second half in which they dominated and deservedly equalised Croatia’s opener with a fine strike from Nathaniel Chalobah.
However, Noel Blake’s side certainly had Sam Johnstone to be thankful to more than once before the break, as the lively Croatians looked to take an early lead with their high-energy start to proceedings.
Firstly, the Manchester United goalkeeper made a brave block to deny Antonio Mirko Colac, after a loose header back from Luke Garbutt was latched onto by the Croatian after just ten minutes. Colac was denied again by a brave block from Michael Keane after another swift move down the right moments after that.
Johnstone was called into action again in the 22nd minute, when Colak dragged the ball into the box from the left for Domagoj Pavicic, whose shot was well saved, before England broke to the other end within a minute and Garbutt’s centre was met by the head of Ross Barkley only for Croatian 'keeper Simon Sluga to keep that out.
The best of Johnstone’s work was saved for the 25th minute though, as a stunning move from Croatia saw them angle a pass into the area for Danijel Miskic. His shot looked destined for the top corner, but Johnstone got a hand to it at full stretch at the expense of a corner.
England sprung into action after that wake-up call and Harry Kane forced Sluga into a save just before the half-hour mark with Benik Afobe doing well to cross from the right before Barkley fired rather wastefully into the side-netting from the left after winning the ball himself in midfield to break forward.
Johnstone then completed a trio of superb first-half saves in the 39th minute when the defence were caught out by Ivan Mocinic’s slide-rule pass forward into the path of Marko Dugandzic. He broke clear on goal, but Johnstone was out quickly to make another smart stop.
Blake clearly had words with his men at the break and England emerged for the second half looking like a transformed team, really taking the game to Croatia.
They came closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock in the 48th minute, as Kane fed Barkley 25 yards out with the Everton ace instantaneously striking a stunning shot at goal. Sluga was nowhere near it, but unfortunately for England, it crashed against the bar and bounced back to safety.
Chalobah then played a cross-field pass to Afobe in the area and once the Arsenal striker had controlled with his chest, his low shot hit Sluga on the line and Croatia could breathe again.
Tragically, England were caught out against the run of play, as a cross from Marko Pajac was nodded back down by Dugandzic for Pavicic to sweep in and strike a low shot past Johnstone in the 57th minute from just inside the area.
The lead didn’t last for long though, as England hit straight back on the hour mark. Barkley started the move by slipping a pass to the left for Garbutt and when his cross was only headed half clear, Chalobah anticipated it, controlled and then sent a right-footer crashing past Sluga and into the top corner from just inside the area.
Afobe was denied in similar circumstances to his earlier chance in the 68th minute, this time as Garbutt’s free-kick was floated into the area and flicked into the forward’s pass. He did everything right again, controlling in an instant and shooting at goal but Sluga was also just as sharp, blocking again at his near post.
By now, Croatia appeared to be tiring and using any chance they could to slow the game or pass the seconds but England were in the ascendancy with Barkley, Chalobah and George Thorne all using the ball well through midfield and Garbutt also joining them in there, following the introduction of Jack Robinson.
With the fresh legs of Nathan Redmond and Rob Hall added to that, England finished strongly and almost won it in the 87th minute when Redmond burst forward down the right and produced an inviting cross, which was inches away from being met by Afobe in the box.
Having said that, Johnstone had one last contribution to make in added time as he tipped over Miskic’s free-kick from 25 yards.
Given the pattern of the game though, a draw was perhaps the fairest of results and England will now turn their attentions to the match with Serbia on Friday.