England suffered late heartbreak against France in their U21 Euro opener, after a stoppage-time own goal from Aaron Wan-Bissaka sealed an unlikely victory for Les Bleus.
The Young Lions had deservedly led in a pulsating clash in Cesena, after a wonderful goal from Phil Foden lit the touchpaper for a conclusion which you couldn’t take your eyes off.
- UEFA European U21 Championship Finals
- Tuesday 18 June 2019
- Cesena, Italy
- Live on Sky Sports
After a first half which saw Aidy Boothroyd’s side create a host of chances and France miss a penalty, the match exploded after the break with Foden scoring his first U21s goal in fine style.
But with England reduced to ten men following a VAR-reviewed sending off for Hamza Choudhury and France missing a subsequent penalty, it took two goals in the dying minutes to swing the game in France’s favour.
It all started so differently too, with an electric opening from England, who spent the first 15 minutes firmly on the front foot and will feel they should’ve edged ahead then.
Firstly, Ryan Sessegnon sprung the offside trap to break into the box and when he slid a pass across the area, French defender Ibrahima Konaté was fortunate not to score an own goal as his clearance struck the post and bounced to safety.
Dominic Solanke then guided a shot wide from close range, after Demarai Gray’s teasing cross from the left picked him out in space.
But it was France who had the best chance of the first half, when they were awarded a spot kick in the 25th minute as Jake Clarke-Salter was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball when blocking a downward header from Mousa Dembele at close range.
There was justice for the Young Lions though, as keeper Dean Henderson guessed right to make a fine save and turn Dembele’s spot kick away.
Henderson thwarted Dembele again ten minutes later, when the former Fulham and Celtic striker thumped a shot at goal but the Manchester United stopper was every bit equal to it again.
Gray then had two chances of his own before the break, firstly when he was sent clear by Jay Dasilva’s diagonal long pass only to send a fierce right-footer into the side netting and he then shot over from the edge of a crowded box.
England’s goal arrived less than ten minutes after the restart though, and it was a wonderful moment for Foden. Picking up the ball inside the left channel, and seemingly in a tight space, he darted inside and towards the box, with the ball barely leaving the end of his toe.
Meeting two blue shirts on the edge of the box, he quickly shifted the ball back left before drilling a low shot across goal, wrong-footing French keeper Paul Bernardoni and nestling in the bottom corner.
Five minutes later, England thought they’d doubled their lead when Solanke crossed from the left for Sessegnon to tap home but an offside flag was raised to deny him, something which proved a crucial moment in the contest.
Within moments, France had broken to the other end and Choudhury’s late challenge on Jonathan Bamba in the area gave the referee no option but to award them a second spot-kick.
To make matters worse, after an initial booking for Choudhury, a look at the replay from the referee saw the Leicester City man’s initial caution traded for a straight red card.
Houssem Aouar took over penalty duties from Dembele and while Henderson couldn’t get near to it this time, his effort came crashing back off the post to let the Young Lions off the hook.
France began to throw more men forward in the search for an equaliser and Henderson had to make a smart save to turn Jonathan Ikone’s shot over the bar as the game went into the final throes.
He couldn’t stop Ikone in the 89th minute though, when the same manoeuvre saw him cut inside again and drill a low left-footer into the bottom corner to bring France level.
And it was Ikone at the heart of it in stoppage time, when his half-volley bobbled awkwardly towards goal, where Wan-Bissaka’s attempt to clear unfortunately ended with the ball diverted into the roof of his own net to inflict a cruel defeat on the Young Lions.
England will have a chance to bounce back on Friday evening, when they're next in action against Romania in their second group fixture.
See our Opta match centre stats from the game.
England: 1 Dean Henderson (Manchester United), 2 Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace), 3 Jay Dasilva (Chelsea), 4 Jake Clarke-Salter (Chelsea) (c), 5 Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea), 7 Demarai Gray (Leicester City), 8 James Maddison (Leicester City), 9 Dominic Solanke (AFC Bournemouth), 10 Phil Foden (Manchester City), 11 Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham), 16 Hamza Choudhury (Leicester City).
Substitutes: 18 Mason Mount (Chelsea) for Solanke 71, 19 Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) for Sessegnon 75, 23 Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) for Gray 75
Substitutes not used: 6 Kieran Dowell (Everton), 12 Jonjoe Kenny (Everton), 13 Angus Gunn (Southampton), 14 Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), 15 Ezri Konsa (Brentford ), 17 Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), 20 Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves), 21 Reiss Nelson (Arsenal), 22 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United)
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd
Goals: Phil Foden 54
Red card: Choudhury 63
France: Paul Bernardoni, Colin Dagba, Fode Ballo-Toure, Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konaté, Jonathan Ikone, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, Houssem Aouar, Lucas Tousart (c), Moussa Dembele, Jonathan Bamba
Substitutes: Olivier Ntcham for Bamba 66, Philippe Mateta for Tousart 73, Marcus Thuram for Aouar 82
Substitutes not used: Kelvin Amian, Matteo Guendouzi, Ibrahima Sissoko, Maxence Prevot, Gautier Larsonneur, Romain Del Castillo, Malang Sarr, Moussa Niakhaté, Anthony Caci
Head Coach: Sylvain Ripoll
Goals: Jonathan Ikone 89, Aaron Wan-Bissaka 90+5 OG