Friday, June 17, 2011

England's young lions continue to toil

I have seen some poor matches in my time, but Wednesday's England Under-21 European Championship clash with Ukraine is definitely up there in the 'depressingly dreadful' stakes.

It certainly won't stem the flow of negative headlines that spilled from the back-pages following their opening game draw with Spain on Sunday.

Part of that criticism was probably extra words spilling over from reports on the senior team, who following last year's disastrous World Cup have been the staple diet of critical journalist's overworked keywords.

The main thrust of the negativity centred round the English player's lack of technical ability compared to their continental rivals, something that mirrored itself in the Spain game. Fearing another overhyped, overrated 'golden generation' the young side woke up to similar headlines on Sunday morning. Those looking at the Premier League betting will wonder if these players can really make an impact.

Manager Stuart Pearce was fierce in his defence of his players following the game on Sunday, despite the youngsters receiving a lesson in how to keep hold of the ball, and perhaps hoped a performance against Ukraine would prove those doubters wrong.

Instead, against a hard working but limited Ukraine side this collection of English prospects – some of whom have commanded gigantic transfer fees – looked clueless in their attempts to break their opponents down.

Quite what Kenny Dalglish saw in Jordan Henderson to fork out £16million on him is beyond me. Neat and tidy yes, but he lacked any drive or creativity, consistently giving away possession and was seemingly afraid of trying to take players on.

He wasn't alone though, players like Jack Rodwell and Danny Welbeck failed to live up to their apparently now over-inflated reputations while Pearce also needs to be questioned for his reason behind a 4-3-3 formation that included a defender – Michael Mancienne – in midfield and a front three completely isolated. The Premier League best odds suggest these players aren't ready for the big time.

Even his substitutions, including bringing on defensive midfielder Fabrice Muamba for the final five minutes, were puzzling.

They now face a do-or-die match against the Czech Republic, the sort of get-out-of-jail match the senior team are used to.

But given the hype and disproportionate praise we have heaped on previous generations, lowered expectations may actually be a good thing.

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