England U21s finished the 2013 European Championships without collecting any points, as Italy progressed from Group A alongside Norway.
Stuart Pearce’s side had previously lost 1-0 to Italy and 3-1 to Norway before crashing out with a 1-0 defeat to hosts Israel tonight. Winger Ofir Kriar grabbed the only goal of the game, while captain Nir Biton impressed again in the centre of midfield.
Despite failing to progress, the Israelis were visibly delighted with their showing and the send-off for manager Guy Luzon, who leaves to join Belgian side Standard Liege after the tournament. England were the exact opposite after the final whistle, with glum faces all round reflecting another English failure.
The Three Lions managed just one goal through Craig Dawson’s penalty against Norway, although they had goals ruled out against both Italy and Norway. Pearce and the FA will rightly face strong questions about another poor tournament showing by England, with some players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain unavailable to select according to the FA the least of the worries after unimaginative football which lacked a spark throughout.
Calls for the FA to be more lenient with selection are rife among criticisms about the England players’ passion and commitment to the cause. Comparisons have been made between the number of players in England’s squad who have won a senior cap and the numbers of players in other squads. As well as that, those who had won a senior cap – like captain Jordan Henderson and Jack Butland – had made just one appearance at senior level, while Russia’s Alan Dzagoev has already won 28 caps for the senior side, flying into Israel from Portugal after sitting on the bench for Fabio Capello’s side in a World Cup qualifier.
Fears have also risen once again about the technical gap between England and their rivals, with the example of most passes completed in England’s tie with Italy. Henderson was the side’s best passer with 44 completed, yet opposite number Marco Verratti managed almost triple with 120 passes made over the 90 minutes.
Despite the issues surrounding the English game, it would be wrong to begrudge Italy and Norway a deserved place in the semi-finals, who take their place alongside Spain and the Netherlands after playing out a 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv. Norway were minutes away from finishing as group winners after Stefan Strandberg’s 90th minute penalty, but Andrea Bertolacci netted deep into stoppage time to send the Azzurini through in first place.
Italy however, are set to be without the eye-catching Lorenzo Insigne who was forced off against Israel with injury, and was missing against Norway. But Devis Mangia has the tournament’s joint top scorer in Manolo Gabbiadini, and the Italians still looked impressive enough without Napoli forward Insigne.
Wednesday night’s matches will feature a straight fight between Spain and the Netherlands to avoid Italy in the semi-finals, with two of the tournament’s three most impressive sides clashing in Petah Tikva to decide the group. Both sides have six points, although Cor Pot’s Netherlands side have superior goal difference after their 5-1 romp against Russia.
Joining England and Israel in making an early exit are Russia and Germany, who meet on Wednesday with both sides playing for pride having lost their two earlier matches.
Israel 2-2 Norway (Biton, Tugerman; Pedersen, Singh)
England 0-1 Italy (Insigne)
England 1-3 Norway (Dawson; Semb Berge, Berget, Eikrem)
Italy 4-0 Israel (Saponara, Gabbiadini (2), Florenzi)
Israel 1-0 England (Kriaf)
Norway 1-1 Italy (Strandberg; Bertolacci)