Matchday 3 of the European U-21 Championship saw England crash out of the tournament with a game still to play and Italy mesmerize their Israeli hosts with a four-goal showing in Tel Aviv.
The Young Lions, who had required at least a draw against Norway to stay alive in the competition, fell 3-1 in Petah Tikva and, as a result, will fly back to London after concluding their group stage schedule on Tuesday in Jerusalem.
The Azzurrini, meanwhile, will finish top of the bracket if they can take a point off Norway in their final Group A match at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. Devis Mangia’s side looks every bit a legitimate contender at this point, but top spot would at least ensure they avoid the Group B winner until a potential final.
Let’s take a look at Saturday’s matches in a bit more depth, beginning with Norway’s impressive showing against a very poor England side.
England 1-3 Norway (57’ Dawson; 15’ Semb Berge, 34’ Berget, 52’ Eikrem)
England embarrassed themselves at the 2013 European U-21 Championship, and their premature exit has already kicked off a good deal of naval-gazing back home.
Everything from the technical ability of their players to a general disinterest in underage football has been put under the microscope, and the self-examination will no doubt stretch well into the future—particularly if the senior team continues its parallel struggles.
On this night, it was almost painful to watch the England players be so utterly dominated by a technically superior Norway side that appeared far less burdened by the weight of the national team shirt than their opponents.
By the time West Bromwich Albion defender Craig Dawson had scored the Young Lions’ first goal of the competition, thanks to a 56th-minute penalty, Norway were already ahead by three goals and would go on to cruise to a mostly effortless three points.
Although England enjoyed the better start of the two sides, it was Fredrik Semb Berge who opened the scoring after a quarter hour following a neat turn inside the box and confident effort that sent the ball into the back of the net.
Less than 20 minutes later, Norway had doubled their advantage thanks to Jo Inge Berget’s first-touch finish from Havard Nielsen’s pass. Shortly after the hour-mark, they established a three-goal lead and all but extinguished any hope of an England fight-back—Magnus Wolff Eikrem smashing Marcus Pedersen’s layoff past Jack Butland with aplomb.
Italy 4-0 Israel (18’ Saponara, 40’ 53’ Gabbiadini, 69’ Florenzi)
If Italy toyed with England in their opening match of the 2013 European U-21 Championship, they were devastatingly clinical against Israel in their second. The Azzurrini scored twice on either side of the interval—and got a brace from Manolo Gabbiadini—as they thumped the tournament hosts in Tel Aviv.
Riccardo Saponara got things started in the 18th minute when Ciro Immobile controlled Lorenzo Insigne’s cross and delivered a perfectly weighted ball to the Empoli midfielder, who drove home an emphatic finish to open the scoring.
Then, in the 40th minute and facing an opponent reduced to 10 men following Eyal Golasa’s dismissal for a two-footed challenge on Saponara, Gabbiadini scored his first goal of the match with a low, hard shot after receiving the ball from Immobile.
Gabbiadini’s best was yet to come, however.
Following Taleb Twatiha’s foul on the tricky Immobile just six minutes after the restart, the Bologna attacker unleashed a venomous free-kick that left Israel goalkeeper Boris Klaiman with no chance whatsoever.
Italy rounded out the scoring in the 69th minute when Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi’s shot went through a defender’s legs before evading Klaiman en route to the back of the net.
“We did well to bring home the points, as it was not easy going in,” remarked Gabbiadini in a post-match interview with RAI (h/t Football-Italia). “It’s pleasing to score, of course, but the primary objective is to take the team all the way.”
He added: “We want to win the Euros.”
A few more performances like that and they very well might.