England crashed out of the under-21 European Championships as Norway put them to sword with a 3-1 victory in the intense Israeli heat.
Temperatures soared above 30 degrees Celsius in Petah Tikva, but that would have been nothing compared to what was likely Stuart Pearce’s post-match reaction to the loss to Italy days earlier. But the man once known as Psycho could hardly have been angry with the fact that both Danny Rose and Tom Ince returned from suspension; and Wilfried Zaha was fit enough to return to action. All three started in a more attack-minded line-up, with Nathaniel Chalobah anchoring the midfield.
England’s altered line-up looked to be their ticket to success as the Three Lions dominated possession in the early stages with the returning Rose finding some joy down the left. And with Rose pressing high, the first real chance came down Norway’s right. Omar Ellabdelaoui was sent clear by birthday boy Marcus Pedersen, but the full-back could only blaze high and wide of the target.
It appeared to be a mere setback to England, but their opponents took the lead soon after. After two corners, neither defended particularly well, England were unable to clear their lines in a crowded box, and centre-back Fredrik Semb Berge squeezed through a mass of bodies and beyond Jack Butland for the opener. Pearce’s side were stunned by the opener and almost found themselves two down when a neatly worked one two between Pedersen and Havard Nielsen saw the former shoot wastefully wide.
England threatened next, with Zaha unable to keep his volley down after Jordan Henderson had nodded into his path, but were soon facing a mammoth task to progress from the group when the Norwegians struck again.
Four touches were all Norway needed, as Nielsen chested the ball and sent a fine lob through to Jo Inge Berget, who flicked away from Adam Smith before smashing a half volley across Butland and into the far corner.
Tor Ole Skullerud’s team were in the driving seat, and England needed three to stay in the tournament. The first almost come when Henderson whipped a free-kick to the back post, where Steven Caulker nodded past Orjan Nyland. However, just as the joy at Craig Dawson’s header against Italy had been short-lived, England once again had a goal disallowed.
The start of the second half had seen an improvement from England days earlier, and it was a repeat here, with the chances falling their way. Ince forced a corner and after the ball had found Henderson on the edge of the box, the England captain fired one goalwards on his left side which Nyland did well to save.
If Norway thought they had killed off their opposition’s hopes with the second goal, it was the final nail in the coffin after 50 minutes. Pedersen charged purposefully down the right, and his cut-back was set perfectly to former Manchester United midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who rocketed one in off the underside of the crossbar to leave Butland with no chance.
England were all but out, yet there was still time for them to score their first goal of the tournament. Goalscorer Semb Berge tussled with Dawson as a corner was delivered, and as the West Brom defender hit the turf the referee pointed to the spot.
Dawson took the responsibility himself, and sent a precise spot-kick low to his right with Hyland unable to keep it out. England had finally registered, but looked a beaten side and almost conceded a fourth when the impressive Pedersen headed wide from Stefan Johansen’s free-kick.
Henderson had a chance with a header of his own, and should have done better when he could only glance off target from Jonjo Shelvey’s delivery.
Pearce will face question marks over his future after another England failure, but his side still have to face Israel on Tuesday night, on the back of a thrashing by Italy. England’s previous conquerors hit the hosts for four in Tel Aviv, with goals from Riccardo Saponara and Alessandro Florenzi either side of a Manolo Gabbiadini brace securing their passage to the semi-finals.