European Under-21 Championships – Group A Focus: England must improve against Norway

England began their European Under-21 championships with something of a whimper, having entered the tournament full of positivity after winning their previous nine games without conceding a goal. Stuart Pearce’s side must put this disappointment behind them and beat Norway and then Israel in order to guarantee progression out of Group A.

An impressive Italy team inflicted the Young Lions’ first defeat since November 2011, but it was the manner of defeat that was most disappointing. In a similar story to the seniors’ exit in last summer’s Euro 2012, England were outpassed and outclassed by a technically superior opposition.

The most vivid illustration of England’s inability to keep hold of the ball came courtesy of Marco Verratti’s passing statistics. The stylish Paris Saint-Germain playmaker made 120 passes, 76 more than any Englishman managed. Ball retention is a clear area that must be improved upon for the next game against Norway on Saturday, although there ought to be an injection of creativity thanks to the expected return to the side of Wilfried Zaha and Tom Ince.

There must be a greater input from captain Jordan Henderson, who represents one of the more experienced members of the squad, as England bid to overcome a Norway side that they have beaten at this level on the previous five occasions they have met. The Liverpool midfielder must look to dictate play and stamp his authority on the centre of the park against a weaker opposition than the Italians that overcame him.

The skipper is remaining upbeat ahead of the clash against the perceived Group A underdogs, stating: “It is a big opportunity for us to go against Norway and get a good result and Israel after that. We’ve still got a long way to go, we still have to remain confident that we can achieve what we want to achieve.” Anything other than getting out of the group stage would be seen as a failure and a major disappointment.

Elsewhere in the group, Italy are seeking to seal qualification for the knockout rounds as they face hosts Israel in Tel Aviv. Devis Mangia’s side can capitalise on a positive opening victory to all but ensure finishing as group winners with a final fixture against Norway to come. Mattia Destro could start up front for the Azzurrini, which would bring some added composure to a forward line that despite their domination against England could only manage the one goal via a Lorenzo Insigne free kick.

Should Israel draw or suffer defeat at the hands of Italy, they will in all likelihood be left requiring a victory against England in their final game to keep their interest in the tournament alive. This could allow them to play with freedom this evening, as they will take to the field largely un-fancied. Alon Turgeman, who came off the bench against Norway to score the second goal for the hosts, could force his way into manager Guy Luzon’s starting XI.

The second set of Group A fixtures is expected to create a showdown between England and Israel in the concluding round, but first Pearce’s men must improve against Norway to put themselves in as strong a position as possible for qualification.

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