England Under-21s have halted their momentum as much-changed Young Lions suffer a stumbling loss to Croatia
England U21s beat France 4-0 on Saturday but their last official game before this summer’s European Championship was a disaster as a heavily modified side lost 2-1 to Croatia at Craven Cottage.
The win over France bolstered recent victories over Italy and Germany and cemented Lee Carsley’s side as one of the favorites to win the Euros in Georgia and Romania.
But Carsley made 10 changes to the side that knocked out the French at Leicester, and those brought in were, it turned out, not up to snuff.
After half an hour it was a sleepy game that needed a goal to bring it to life. Such a goal came courtesy of a bad free-kick conceded by 18-year-old debutant Rico Lewis, who recently shone for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Lewis committed a cynical foul, for which he received a yellow card, and reinforced midfielder Martin Baturina to curl in a stellar free-kick with Gareth Bale-like technique. The ball swung past the England wall, landing just in the top left corner.
England had started the half in decent fashion, but after Baturina’s stunner they faded and pressed Croatia in a rambling and frustrating fashion, arching their backs when a complex move didn’t come through. is not produced.
Lee Carsley replaced Bolton goalkeeper James Trafford with West Brom’s Josh Griffiths at the break. Noni Madueke, who joined Chelsea from PSV for the full £30m in January, endured a frustrating game, tripping over the ball several times. He forced goaltender Dominik Kotarski to make some decent saves, but it wasn’t long before he was taken out.
By the time England heavyweight strikers Emile Smith Rowe, Morgan Gibbs-White and Harvey Elliott entered the fray, England had again conceded and Croatia were on course for victory.
Leicester left-back Luke Thomas is an experienced member of Carsley’s side but was the wrong color in the first half and got on the wrong side of Matija Frigan in the box in the second. Referee Krzysztof Jakubik pointed to the spot, from where Augsburg’s Dion Drena Beljo kicked the penalty.
Griffiths’ close-range block from Lukas Kacavenda kept him from getting even uglier for England, before the Young Lions found some inspiration in the depths of something somewhere – Cole Palmer and Madueke striking on goal but failing to beat Kotarski.
Gibbs-White beat Kotarski to the ball in the 87th minute and won a penalty which he himself took and converted with aplomb. It was far too little too late for England, who will regret missed chances in attack and two very costly fouls from Lewis and Thomas in defence.
It’s not an ideal way to head into a major tournament.