UEFA Under-21 Championship: Lucky England squeeze past Sweden
Gareth Southgate’s England Under-21 team made hard work of their second outing in the UEFA Under-21 Championship Group B, eventually claiming a crucial three points with a narrow 1-0 win against a sturdy but rigid Sweden.
For a large portion of the game it looked as though the Young Lions, who lacked ideas and imagination, may have been on their way out of the tournament, but the youngsters held on and super sub Jesse Lingard’s sensational strike clawed them out of danger. For now.
England began brightly but soon found themselves facing an immovable bank of yellow in Sweden’s organised backline, with the spirited Scandinavian side, whose raucous fans spurred them on superbly, happy to sit back and allow the Young Lions to huff and puff.
Sweden, stout and impressive defenders, showed little intent themselves, though early balls over the top threatened to undo England with Bordeaux forward Isaac Thelin and John Guidetti’s pace promising, but failing to deliver, an early threat.
It took Southgate’s side 16 minutes to display some ingenuity, as midfielder Will Hughes, drafted in after James Ward-Prowse’s disappointing first outing, justified his inclusion by almost unlocking Sweden’s defence with a lovely ball through to the onrushing Nathan Redmond, though the chance was smothered.
Sweden continued to shut England out, repeatedly disrupting the Young Lions’ passing rhythm in midfield, with full backs Carl Jenkinson and Luke Garbutt the most threatening players down the flanks.
Finally, around the 26th minute mark Harry Kane, who had been cutting an isolated figure alone up top once again, sent a diving header just wide in England’s most threatening opening of the first half, following smart work from Tom Caroll and Redmond to find Jenkinson on the right, who duly picked out the Tottenham striker.
Just minutes later, Garbutt released Alex Pritchard down the left, and the winger picked out Hughes through a crowded box and, though the Derby County playmaker could have done better, Swedish centre back Filip Helander’s block was implemented in some style.
After the break Southgate wasted no time by introducing new Liverpool recruit Danny Ings, surprisingly for Hughes, as he sought out England’s first goal of the championship.
Ings did show endeavor, with fellow substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek also adding dynamism to the midfield but, even with two up top, the Young Lions struggled to craft chances.
Jenkinson’s 65th minute cross to Kane, who saw himself blocked once again by the brilliant and determined Joseph Baffo, with the full back then sending the loose ball wide, was England’s most clear cut chance of the second half.
Powerful Thelin continued to cause trouble for the Swedes, who enjoyed a late spell of dominance, but missed a golden chance following a gorgeous ball into the box from Guidetti, mis-timing his jump.
The clash looked set to be a stalemate, which would certainly have suited the Swedes, as Ing’s 80th minute penalty claim was waved away, but just five minutes later Manchester United wingman Lingard, brought on for injured Pritchard, broke the deadlock with panache.
Garbutt’s corner was punched awkwardly away by Patrik Carlgren, luckily falling to Lingard, who lashed home a sweetly struck volley past the Swedish stopper to give the Young Lions hope and a vital victory.
England can now take a deep breath after their perhaps undeserving triumph, despite having the lions share of possession, but there is still all to play for against Italy in the final pool outing, regardless of the Azzurrini’s result against Portugal.