England sent their team to the European Under 21 Championships in the optimism-fuelled aircraft typically reserved for the senior side’s bi-annual excursions to major international tournaments, yet the Young Lions’ 3-1 defeat against their Italian counterparts ensured Gareth Southgate’s side would be heading home at the earliest possible opportunity.
Billed as a platform upon which those who’ll be filling out the Three Lions squad in the future could acquaint themselves with the rigours of international competition, preparing them perfectly for success in the senior side, the outcome was a spectacular disappointment.
With a talented squad who’d performed near flawlessly in qualifying for the tournament, where they won nine and drawn one of their ten fixtures before winning both legs of a play-off against Croatia, many hoped the junior Euros would see England lay the foundations for similar glory to that which Germany savoured in Brazil last summer.
Die Mannschaft won the 2014 World Cup with six of the players named in the starting XI (though one, Sami Khedira, was injured in the warm up) for their 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina graduates of the team that won the 2009 European Under 21 Championship.
England were unable to replicate Germany’s heroics from six years ago, but their below-par performance in the Czech Republic should still be regarded as a success, so far as readying the youngsters for life in the senior side is concerned anyway.
It wasn’t just the earlier-than-anticipated exit that bore similarities with the traits exemplified by England’s full international outfit either.
An underwhelming showing from Harry Kane, the team’s aesthetically unconventional poster boy, suggests the Tottenham ace has what it takes to don the number nine for Roy Hodgson’s men at Euro 2016 and beyond.
‘Sugar’s’ season to remember, in which he scored 30 goals across all competitions, ended as sour as month-old milk, after he failed to bag in three outings in England U21 colours in light of en masse expectation for him to fire the team into the depths of the competition; a showing ripped straight from chapter one of Wayne Rooney’s ‘How To Underwhelm At International Tournaments’ textbook.
Kane’s inability to form a coherent partnership with Liverpool-bound forward Danny Ings, aped Rooney’s toils with the already Red Daniel Sturridge too.
There’s also the absolute domination revelled in during the qualifying campaign to consider.
England didn’t lose a game in topping a tough group en route to Brazil 12 months ago before finishing bottom of their group and the fortunes of their feeder team were identical in the build up to and at the U21 Championships.
As if to sum up just how steady the course the current batch of Young Lions are treading en route to senior international football, they were comprehensively overcome by an average-at-best Italy team.
It may be Azzurri policy not to induct fledgling players into their main side at too young an age, but Luigi Di Biagio doesn’t have a single capped player to call upon.
Southgate, by contrast, was armed with such a wealth (five, to be exact) that he could afford to keep one, Calum Chambers, on ice for the entire tournament.