That didn’t go to plan, did it? England Under-21s started their European Championship campaign with an opening day defeat that, aside from reigniting the age old national debate about the national team’s standing on the international stage, has put Stuart Pearce’s side in a tricky spot.
The 1-0 defeat to Italy has left the Young Lions in a corner, realistically needing to take maximum points from their matches against Norway and hosts Israel if they are to get out of Group A.
Pearce called the loss to the Italians on Wednesday ‘awful’, bemoaning his side’s lack of creativity, but gave his scathing assessment with a caveat – the lack of first choice players available to him.
I am no fan of Pearce – in fact, I find his continued involvement and influence within the FA over the last five years or so baffling – but he does seem to have a point in this instance. Whereas Italy were only missing Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy from their entire pool of available players, England were without an entire starting 11 through injury and, more crucially, refusal to play for various reasons.
Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are among those with the seniors, making Pearce’s job more difficult than it ought to be.
But despite all this, England have a decent squad of players in Israel and I am going to back the Young Lions to get back on track in the must win game against the Norwegians. A price of 83/100 is a bit on the short side, though, so I’ll look for value instead of taking the draw at 5/2 or a Norway win at 3/1.
And the way to get that value is to take the 2/1 that England win to nil. Prior to the defeat to Italy, Pearce’s side had actually come into the tournament in fantastic form, showing the sort of defensive solidity that Pearce could have only dreamed of.
England have won 14 of the 16 games they have played since being embarrassed at the 2011 European Championship, but of late they have been imperious. Pearce’s side won their previous nine matches before heading to Israel – all without conceding a goal. That is truly tremendous form, and with Pearce certain to show that same caution in this must-not-lose fixture, you can be sure that his team will once again be prioritising a clean sheet.
And when you think that one of those nine shut-out wins came against Norway, who were defeated 1-0 (as well as 2-1) in qualifying for the Euros, you have to be on the 2/1 that England can get their campaign back on track with a win to nil.