An extraordinary evening in Gothenburg saw the England under-21 team break a tournament jinx and make the final of the European Under-21 Championships with a penalty shootout win against the hosts Sweden last night. The England team hadn’t made the final of this competition prior to last night since winning it in 1984 but they have made the semi-finals of it five times since then, losing every time since then including a 13-12 defeat against the Netherlands two years ago. This, however, was a pretty remarkable evening all round, though.
That it went to penalties in the first place was something of a surprise. England had raced into a 3-0 lead in the first half before being pegged back by three goals in thirteen minutes in the second half, none of which bodes particularly well for the blood pressure of England supporters in five or ten years’ time. In the middle of all this, Frazier Campbell was sent off for what might euphemistically be described as “a rush of blood to the head” (which manifested itself as a raash and dangerous tackle on Sweden’s Mattias Bjarsmyr to earn himself a second yellow card).
He’s not the only one that will miss the final. Has there ever been a case of a goalkeeper being suspended from a match in a major tournament after being suspended for picking up two yellow cards? If there wasn’t before there has now, after Manchester City’s Joe Hart managed this feat during the shootout for leaving his line to speak to Sweden’s Mikael Lustig. It was needless and petty yellow card from the referee (Lustig hadn’t even place the ball on the spot) and England will appeal the card, but the chances of success in this respect will be low in any case.
Milner had missed the first penalty in an extravagant and luxuriant manner, losing his footing with the first kick of the shoot-out just before making the contact with the ball and skewing it off at a forty-five degree angle which was in as much danger of interfering with the corner flag as it was with the goal. Hart, however, saved the very next kick from Berg and then managed the feat again with the score at 5-4 to England. The win was a testament to a coach that knows a thing or two abour England and penalty kicks. Stuart Pearce made his reputation with his cathartic goal against Spain at Euro 96 and has had them taking penalty kicks in every single training session since that loss to the Netherlands. The dividend of this policy was, by the skin of its teeth, reaped last night.
England play – with almost wearying predictability – Germany in the final on Monday, aafter the Germans beat Italy 1-0 in the other semi-final. This has already been a successful tournament for England. They started off their group matches with a win against Finland and a notable win against Spain before playing out a draw against Germany. To reach win this competition could also be the beginning the rehabilitation of the managerial career of Stuart Pearce, who hasn’t managed a club since getting the push from Manchester City two years ago. It certainly feels like a long time since, as the player-manager of Nottingham Forest, he picked a team which he proudly showed his wife, only for her to point out that he hadn’t selected a goalkeeper.
You can see the penalty shoot-out from last night’s match here: