On Friday, the UEFA European Under-21 Championship began with the teams from Group A taking centre stage. England faced reining champions Sweden, who were unbeaten in qualification. Hosts Poland would take on group outsiders Slovakia, in a game without star forward Dawid Kownacki, who was missing through suspension.
England 0-0 Sweden
Poland 1-2 Slovakia
England and Sweden play out bore draw
In what was a disappointing game for both teams, England and Sweden shared the spoils. Aidy Boothroyd’s team started well, having 70% of the possession at the 20 minute mark. That proved to be as good as it got for England, as Sweden began to take control. Both teams had a total of 15 attempts on goal, and in the 81st minute Sweden were awarded a penalty. Sweden’s Linus Wahlqvist won the penalty and stepped up to take it, only for Everton’s £30 million man, Jordan Pickford, to save it and rescue a point for England.
It’s difficult to judge which team will be more disappointed, with Sweden having victory palmed away and England being the pre-game favourites. Håkan Ericson’s team may have started slowly, but this side proved they could compete with, if not outplay a talented England team.
Boothroyd needs to make changes, the back four was solid, but the likes of Jacob Murphy made very little impact, so too Lewis Baker. With the likes of Will Hughes and Demarai Gray on the bench, the manager has the options to change England’s fate.
Slovakia spring a surprise
Scoring after just 54 seconds, Poland started their tournament with a bang. Patryk Lipski headed home early on, after being a surprise selection by manager Marcin Dorna. Despite that great start Slovakia, dominated the first half and Martin Valjent equalised in the 20th minute. Poland may be the hosts, but they looked lost in the first half.
The second half was evenly matched, with Poland raising their game slightly. In front of a sold out crowd, the hosts ended up disappointed. In the 78th minute, Pavol Šafranko scored the deciding goal. The White and Reds had one more chance before the final whistle, but goalkeeper Adrian Chovan made a spectacular save at his near post.
What Poland did wrong
Poland may have sealed their fate after just one game. They have now lost control of Group A, with Slovakia sitting on top. Starting Jakub Wrąbel instead of Bartłomiej Drągowski was a mistake. Wrąbel looked shaky all game, making poor decisions for both goals. One word to describe the hosts’ efforts would be cautious. It’s clear that the pressure got to a young group, missing its star man going forward. Dawid Kownacki will return and is needed now more than ever.
The next two games will be the biggest of these young players’ careers. It’s now or never for Poland, as we could be seeing the hosts fall at the very first hurdle.
Player of the day—Jordan Pickford
Day one’s player of the day was undoubtedly England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper made a key penalty save, to rescue his team a point and perhaps England’s place in the tournament. If this team reaches the latter stages of the tournament, Pickford’s efforts in game one will be remembered as a pivotal moment.
An honourable mention for this award is Slovakia’s Stanislav Lobotka. The Slovakian midfielder sat in front of the back four and put together a flawless performance.