England ended their U21 Euro campaign in typically thrilling fashion, as they shared a six-goal draw with Croatia in their final game of the 2019 Championships.
Both teams knew they were going home after this game, following two defeats in their opening two games, and the result means England finish third in their group.
- UEFA European U21 Championship Finals
- Monday 24 June 2019
- Serravalle, San Marino
- Live on Sky Sports
But that didn’t stop them serving up an entertaining match in which Aidy Boothroyd’s side took the lead on three occasions only to find an opponent who just wouldn’t be beaten as they failed to hold on to their advantage for long each time.
With seven of Boothroyd’s squad still young enough to feature for the U21s in their next campaign, which kicks-off in September, it was a chance for the likes of Reiss Nelson, Phil Foden and Lloyd Kelly to add to their experience while there were also second-half appearances for Mason Mount and an U21s debut for Morgan Gibbs-White.
The game was also the final time for the rest of the group to feature for the U21s, bringing an end to their journey through the England development teams for a number of players who have tasted previous success right back to the U17 European Championship title in 2014 and the U20 World Cup in 2017.
It’s to the future that we’re looking now though, and there was a glimpse of that for England’s opener when a swift passing move saw the Young Lions move the ball through the thirds before Foden slipped a pass into Nelson in the area. He danced inside Bran Kalaica, who could only trip him at the expense of an obvious penalty.
The Arsenal man took the spot kick himself and confidently rolled it into the bottom corner to get things started.
England twice came close to doubling their lead, with Tammy Abraham seeing his flick bounce off the outside of the post before Demarai Gray’s shot soon after had a similar outcome.
But Croatia found themselves level five minutes before the break, when the impressive Josip Brekalo flew inside Jonjoe Kenny and into the box before firing an unstoppable shot past Dean Henderson.
It didn’t take long after the restart for the Young Lions to restore their lead, as Kenny’s deep cross from the right was only headed clear as far as Maddison who took a touch before firing past Ivo Grbic.
Again, England couldn’t hold onto the lead and it was another unfortunate error which led to Croatia’s second equaliser as Kelly’s pass out of defence was cut out by Lovro Majer before two swift passes across the area via Sandro Kulenovic picked out Nikola Vlasic, whose low finish gave Henderson no chance.
The best was saved until last for England, as Kenny strode forward to collect a loose ball before unleashing a howitzer from 25 yards which flew past Grbic and nestled into the far corner.
The Everton full-back, about to spend next season on loan with Schalke, doesn’t get many goals and the celebrations matched the occasion for a player who has been an England regular since his U16s bow back in 2012.
For a third time though, Croatia bounced back to ensure both teams ended their U21 Euro campaign with a point, as Brekalo latched onto Luka Ivanusec’s pass to calmly slide a shot under Henderson in the box and register his second of the evening and bring another Euro term to a close for both nations.
Click here to see the Match Centre, featuring all of the game's stats and line-ups.
England: 1 Dean Henderson (Manchester United), 5 Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea), 4 Jake Clarke-Salter (Chelsea) (c), 12 Jonjoe Kenny (Schakle, loan from Everton), 6 Kieran Dowell (Everton), 7 Demarai Gray (Leicester City), 8 James Maddison (Leicester City), 10 Phil Foden (Manchester City), 14 Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), 21 Reiss Nelson (Arsenal), 23 Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
Substitutes:15 Ezri Konsa (Brentford) for Clarke-Salter 49, 18 Mason Mount (Chelsea) for Dowell 56, 20 Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves) for Maddison 73
Substitutes not used: 2 Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace), 3 Jay Dasilva (Chelsea), 9 Dominic Solanke (AFC Bournemouth), 13 Angus Gunn (Southampton), 17 Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), 19 Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), 22 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United)
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd
Goals: Reiss Nelson 11 (p), James Maddison 48, Jonjoe Kenny 69