Heartbreaker for England Under-21 admitting to crashing out of euro despite beating Croatia

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Heartbreak for England U21s being knocked out of the European Championship despite beating Croatia as 91st minute brawler sends Igor Biscan’s squad through – after Curtis Jones appeared to have made unlikely progress for Aidy Boothroyd’s side

  • England dramatically left the U21s despite beating Croatia 2-1
  • Young Lions had to win with two goals and I hope Portugal won to continue
  • Portugal did the business and Ebere Eze and Curtis Jones had passed England 2-0
  • But Domagoj Bradaric’s late stunner in injury time brought Croatia through

England is leaving with something. Regretfully largely because had they played this way before, the Under 21s would be back for the European Summer’s knockouts.

But how cruel. Heartbreaking. They’ve got this in charge, great all night long. This was a performance by England to finally make these players and their manager proud.

They showed gum on the ball. Progressive, lively, with a punch. Everything that was missing for the past week seemed to click into place just in time. On probably his last bow as manager, Aidy Boothroyd should have enjoyed his team coming back from the brink. By two minutes into injury time, they were the unlikeliest of rebellions.

England Under-21s crashed during the European Championships, although they defeated Croatia

England Under-21s crashed during the European Championships, although they defeated Croatia

Domagoj Bradaric's late stunner sent Croatia through and England crashed with a 2-1 win

Domagoj Bradaric's late stunner sent Croatia through and England crashed with a 2-1 win

Domagoj Bradaric’s late stunner sent Croatia through and England crashed with a 2-1 win

ENGLAND MATCH FACTS AND REVIEWS

England (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale 6.5, Aarons 7, Tanganga 6.5, Wilmot 6.5, Kelly 6.5; Skipp 7.5, Gallagher 6.5 (Cantwell 72, 6.5); Jones 8, Eze 7.5, McNeil 7.5 (S Sessegnon 89); Nketiah 6 (Brewster 71, 6.5)

Subs not used: Bursik, Griffiths, R Sessegnon, Madueke

But when Croatia’s Domagoj Bradaric came completely behind from 25 meters, and fell far away into the top left corner of Aaron Ramsdale – English bodies strewn across the grass – your thoughts went back to Switzerland last Thursday. The nightmare of the opening day.

England was aiming for a goal difference – more specifically, they were aiming for goals – and that’s a harsh reality. Forget Portugal, Switzerland gave up six in their next two games. A zero against England, however. That’s where this got lost, not in Bradaric’s shoes.

“I don’t have the words for it,” said an emotional Ramsdale. “Three minutes away from leaving a group we should have gotten out of anyway. It’s a learning curve, but for us it’s as much about winning as it is about learning. It’s heartbreaking. ‘

Curtis Jones and Eberechi Eze were goalscorers and England’s best players. Both made their first start for the group. Perhaps therein lies the problem for the general problems. Jones was eventually dismissed after full-time for flaring up celebrating opponents, turning down an English coach for a second booking in the process.

England looked like they were going through it when Ebere Eze and Curtis Jones (left) gave the Young Lions the two goal lead they were looking for

England looked like they were going through it when Ebere Eze and Curtis Jones (left) gave the Young Lions the two goal lead they were looking for

England looked like they were going through it when Ebere Eze and Curtis Jones (left) gave the Young Lions the two goal lead they were looking for

Eze (center) had given the Young Lions a perfect start by scoring a 12 minute penalty

Eze (center) had given the Young Lions a perfect start by scoring a 12 minute penalty

Eze (center) had given the Young Lions a perfect start by scoring a 12 minute penalty

England threatened to find the second goal they needed, but Tottenham's Japhet Tanganga missed a golden opportunity after half-time.

England threatened to find the second goal they needed, but Tottenham's Japhet Tanganga missed a golden opportunity after half-time.

England threatened to find the second goal they needed, but Tottenham’s Japhet Tanganga missed a golden opportunity after half-time.

There are questions for Boothroyd, who, while winning the 2018 Toulon tournament and reaching the semi-finals of this competition a year earlier, has now chaired two miserable group stage exits with talent galore. The FA debriefing is due in two weeks.

“We’ve been eliminated against Switzerland,” said Boothroyd. ‘It hurts. We needed a big performance against Switzerland. We didn’t do anything we talked about.

‘I will continue to support Gareth (Southgate) for as long as he needs me. Is it winning or developing? It’s a bit foggy at the moment. We’re not sure what it is. I know what it is, the rest of the coaches are doing it – we’re part of a path to producing players for Gareth. ‘

Liverpool midfielder Jones scored a stunning attempt with 16 minutes to go to score a second

Liverpool midfielder Jones scored a stunning attempt with 16 minutes to go to score a second

Liverpool midfielder Jones scored a stunning attempt with 16 minutes to go to score a second

But Bradaric's goal meant it was another group stage for England despite their victory

But Bradaric's goal meant it was another group stage for England despite their victory

But Bradaric’s goal meant it was another group stage for England despite their victory

Aidy Boothroyd has accompanied a new group stage in Eurosport this summer with his contract

Aidy Boothroyd has accompanied a new group stage in Eurosport this summer with his contract

Aidy Boothroyd has accompanied a new group stage in Eurosport this summer with his contract

England hit the woodwork twice, through Jones and Dwight McNeil, had engraved other great opportunities. Portugal beat Switzerland comfortably and England, which already had a goal after Eze’s 12th-minute penalty, needed just one more.

At the time, there seemed to be only one outcome. The second owed a lot to the efforts of substitute Rhian Brewster, who flashed a cross in the sixteen and controlled McNeil and found Jones selfless instead of firing on the turn.

Jones saw a flash of light between defenders, thundering into the far bottom corner with 16 minutes to go. Boothroyd roared, Jones roared. Unfortunately not long.

“It’s about getting us to the seniors and we have to be reliable and watch games better than that,” Ramsdale said. “It cost us again.”

Sportsmails SAM BLITZ was on the live blog for the coverage of the European Championship U21 Croatia vs England

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