Italian job proves too much for England Under-21s

Wednesday 24 Jun 2015
Marco Benassi celebrates his first half strike
England Under-21s’ Euro dreams were shattered in Olomouc as a 3-1 reverse against Italy saw them knocked out at the group stage.

Two quickfire goals from Andrea Belotti and Marco Benassi in the space of two first-half minutes and a second goal for the latter after the break did the damage to see Gareth Southgate’s side heading home early.

The Three Lions knew that a win would take them through, or even a draw if results in Group B’s other clash between Portugal and Sweden went their way.

England 1-3 Italy

UEFA European U21 Championship
Group B
Wednesday 24 June 2015
Ander Stadium, Olomouc, Czech Republic

That did not matter in the end, as Italy took the three points which they knew they needed if they were to stand a chance of reaching the semi-final, but that was also in vain as a late equaliser from Sweden saw that game end 1-1 and knock-out both England and Italy.

For England though, they were punished in the cruellest of fashion after seeing a number of chances spurned.

Southgate selected an attacking line-up, with Harry Kane, Danny Ings, Nathan Redmond and Jesse Lingard all starting whilst there was a return for John Stones in defence after concussion kept him out of the first two games.

Ings missed an early opportunity to give England the lead

Ings missed an early opportunity to give England the lead

Both sides started the game brightly in an open game, but the best chance of the early stages fell to England in the 13th minute as Harry Kane split the Italian defence by poking a slide-rule pass to Danny Ings. The Liverpool-bound forward raced clear into the box and just had keeper Francesco Bardi to beat, but put his shot into the side netting.

Ten minutes later, another opportunity arose as Kane beautifully controlled Carl Jenkinson’s diagonal pass before cutting inside Daniele Rugani. He pulled the trigger and hit the target but Bardi was equal to it and made a fine save.

But England were punished minutes later, when England were caught out by a quickly-taken free-kick and a wonderful chip into the box by Domenico Berardi, which was emphatically volleyed home by Belotti in the box.

Domenico Berardi is mobbed by team-mates after netting the opener

Andrea Belotti is mobbed by team-mates after netting the opener

The Azzuri sensed blood and uncertainty in the English backline and two minutes later they doubled their lead, when Lorenzo Crisetig drove forward with the ball before finding space to roll a pass to Benassi. He took a touch on the edge of the area, before his low shot deflected off the heel of Ben Gibson and past Butland into the bottom corner.

That was a blow and the Three Lions knew they had to find something to salvage their chances of progressing and Redmond’s darting run into the box in the 40th minute caused some concern, as he twisted past Davide Zappacosta but Bardi was out to block his low left-footer.

Kane then tried his luck with a long-range effort which Bardi was equal to again, parrying to the side as England desperately searched for a goal back before the break.

They did not find it, but within two minutes of the restart they came close again as Lingard tricked his way into the box and fired a shot at goal which flew narrowly wide of the post.

Another good move saw a forward pass from Gibson flicked by Redmond into the path of Ings, but he snatched at the chance and shot wide.

Harry Kane was unable to find a way through for England

Harry Kane was unable to find a way through for England

Redmond’s flighted free-kick into the box was then nudged on by Ings and inches away from being met by the head of Gibson.

Lingard then saw a shot flash inches wide of the post but after 72 minutes, England’s momentum was ended as Benassi guided a strong header past Butland after Trotta flicked on a throw-in for the Torino man’s second. 

There was a small consolation in the last minute for England, as Redmond smashed home from inside the box, but the damage had long been done and sadly it will be a premature return home for Southgate's men and another chance to reflect on what might have been.

England Under-21s (4-2-3-1): 1 Jack Butland (Stoke City) (c); 2 Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal), 5 John Stones (Everton), 6 Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), 3 Luke Garbutt (Everton); 14 Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), 4 Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton & Hove Albion); 11 Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), 17 Danny Ings (Burnley), 16 Jesse Lingard (Manchester United); 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

Substitutes: 23 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) for Forster-Caskey 64

Substitutes not used: 8 James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), 10 Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), 12 Jonathan Bond (Watford), 13 Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham), 15 Michael Keane (Burnley), 18 Benik Afobe (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 19 Will Hughes (Derby County), 20 Liam Moore (Leicester City), 21 Calum Chambers (Arsenal), 22 Matt Targett (Southampton).

Head coach: Gareth Southgate

Goals:  Redmond 90

Cautions: Loftus-Cheek 66

Italy Under-21s (4-4-2): 1 Francesco Bardi (Chievo); 22 Davide Zappacosta (Atalanta), 5 Daniele Rugani (Empoli), 6 Alessio Romagnoli (Sampdoria), 3 Christiano Biraghi (Chievo); 10 Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), 21 Danilo Cataldi (Lazio), 4 Lorenzo Crisetig (Cagliari), 15 Marco Benassi (Torino); 9 Andrea Belotti (Palermo), 19 Marcelo Trotta (Avellino)

Substitutes: 2 Stefano Sabelli (Bari) for Berardi 63, 23 Simone Verdi (Empoli) for Trotta 75, 7 Federico Viviano (Latina) for Zappacosta 83

Substitutes not used: 14 Marco Sportiello (Atalanta), 20 Nicola Leali (Cesena), , 11 Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), 12 Federico Barba (Empoli), 13 Matteo Bianchetti (Spezia), 16 Daniele Basselli (Atalanta),17 Armando Izzo (Genoa), 18 Christian Battocchio (Entella Chiavari)

Head coach: Luigi di Biagio

Goals:  Belotti 25, Benassi 27, 72

Cautions: Zappacosta 57

Referee: Sergey Karasev (Russia)

Assistant referees: Anton Averianov and Tikhon Kalugin (Russia) Fourth official: Ondrej Pelikan (Czech Republic)

By Nicholas Veevers in Olomouc, Czech Republic