England U21 1-0 Sweden U21: Lingard stunner seals first victory for Young Lions
Picture source: Twitter - England

Gareth Southgate's men had a tough test in the form of the Swedish young side, as the Young Lions looked to grab their first points of this year's European Championships

Time for reflection...

In their opening fixture during midweek, they were beaten by a rather talented Portuguese side who dominated the midfield battles and took their chance clinically, despite England looking dangerous in the opening exchanges. Although they suffered an opening loss, there was plenty of positives to take from the game itself, including the fact that both Norwich winger Nathan Redmond and Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard looked impressive on the counter attack. 

Tottenham striker Harry Kane, who was heavily tipped to be the side's shining star this summer, looked sharp when he got on the ball. However, the Spurs man was unable to get his name on the scoresheet, which was not a testament to his performance in truth, but the fact that his team-mates struggled to provide him much service going forward. With that being said, he posed a dangerous threat with the ball at his feet, and tested goalkeeper Jose Sá with a few half-chance opportunities on-goal. 

Sweden meanwhile, came from a goal behind courtesy of Domenico Berardi's penalty strike, to win two-one against the Italians. John Guidetti and Isaac Kiese Thelin were the goalscorers in the second-half, and they are joint top of the group with Portugal following the first round of group stage games. 

In their penultimate Group B match, with only Italy left to face, it was imperative that England improved - otherwise they'd be out of the competition. They started without talented midfield regular James Ward-Prowse, whilst the likes of Lingard and Liverpool's new signing Danny Ings were also surprisingly left on the substitutes' bench. 

An end-to-end affair, with no goals

Thelin's electric speed and probing attacking runs towards goal was a warning sign for the England backline throughout, as they were weary of the threat posed by the 22-year-old forward.

Although the first twenty minutes did not have any real clear-cut chances of note, both sides were trying to assert a foothold in the match. Southgate's men looked to play possession football and gradually build-up to a goal-scoring opportunity, whilst the Swedes looked threatening on the counter attack - asking questions of their opponents' defensive capabilities.

Redmond came agonisingly close to latching onto a well-struck through ball pass by Derby's creative midfielder, Will Hughes. Hughes threaded through a neat, slick ball towards the area, and the pacey forward was inches away from getting onto it, but for the reactions of goalkeeper Patrik Carlgren rushing off his line to clear the danger away to safety.

Kane soon got his first sight of goal, just for it to be narrowly snatched away from his path after a neat give-and-go exchange of passes with Hughes inside the box. As the 21-year-old shaped to shoot, the ball was cleared away by the robust Swede backline, who were more than eager to keep a clean sheet against a rather attack-minded England side.

Oscar Hiljemark, captain of the Sweden U21's, let fly with a speculative strike from 25 yards out after a quick one-two pass with a team-mate in space, unmarked. His shot though, flew over the crossbar as the scores stayed goal-less halfway through the first-half. Then, just a minute later, Simon Tibbling had a chance of his own to break the deadlock inside the area. His strike was low and hard, as the ball fizzed across the grass and towards Jack Butland's left-hand post. However, the Stoke City 'keeper was equal to the shot, and gave his team-mates a brief breather.  

Sweden established their dominance in midfield as the game continued, but had nothing to show for it. England meanwhile, looked timid in their pressing tactic, and struggled to make any robust challenges. Within a flash though, the Young Lions upped their attacking intensity and should have been a goal or two ahead. Redmond past the ball across into Carl Jenkinson's path, and his inviting delivery into the box was begging for Kane to head home from close range - after getting the better of his defensive marker in the area. However, Kane's flick on trickled inches wide of the far post as the supporters groaned with disappointment.

Then, it could have been two. Just a minute later, a forward pass resulted with creative midfielder Alex Pritchard dribbling on the ball, from the left. The Spurs midfielder, who has enjoyed an impressive spell with Sky Bet Championship side Brentford last term, unselfishly squared the ball into the middle for Hughes - who looked to turn from provider into finisher. However, he watched on with disappointment as his curling strike flashed wide out for a corner-kick as defender Filip Helander made a vital last-ditch block.

Nathaniel Chalobah was arguably lucky not to go into the referee's book, for a feisty sliding tackle on an opponent in midfield - whilst both were vying for the ball. Although replays showed he was going to win the ball, and slid in cleanly, he took the man with him, and it appeared as though it was a scissor-like motion. 

Pritchard was excellent on the left as per usual, and created a chance out of virtually nothing. However, the Swedish backline did well with another last-ditch clearance to quell England's spell of pressure towards their goal.

Hughes, who'd trickled his way towards the box was clattered by Swedish defender Victor Lindelöf with the clock ticking down on the first-half's action. The resulting free-kick was taken by Kane, who attempted a side-foot strike goalwards, but the effort was comfortably smothered by Carlgren. Guidetti, formerly of Manchester City, came close with a shot of his own up at the other end. His effort was powerful and low, skidding past the two England centre-backs, but Butland was equal to the strike as he could watch it all the way goalwards.

As the half-time whistle blew, the scores were still level. It was an end-to-end affair, and an intriguing watch to say the least. However, neither side was clinical enough to warrant taking the lead. Mathematically, England were still in with a chance of qualifying out of the group because as it stood with a fifteen-minute break, Gareth Southgate's men had one point to their name and were sitting in third place ahead of Italy, who were up against Portugal in the day's evening kick-off. 

Time was of the essence

The second-half began, and Danny Ings was introduced into the fray in place of Will Hughes - who had enjoyed a lively first 45 minutes of football, it must be stressed. However, understandably, England needed more firepower up-top, with all of their creative-minded players playing well, but needing an outlet to feed the ball to. Harry Kane had another sniff at goal, but unfortunately, to no avail after being teed up by Pritchard making another probing run from the left once more.

Unfortunately for the talented midfielder, Pritchard was down injured, having picked up a knock in the 54th minute. It appeared as though he would struggle to continue, so Southgate made his second change - bringing on Lingard in his place. Not much happened in the minutes after this, until the Young Lions went on the attack again.

An inviting ball inside the area from Jenkinson, cutting inside from the right-hand side, was thread through into the path of Kane. He did his best to shield off the advances of Swedish defender Joseph Baffo, who did well to keep him goalside and within reach, as well as making a decent block to deny Harry's attempted effort on-goal. The ball trickled back into play as Kane narrowly kept the ball on the field, into the path of Jenkinson - but his effort hit the side netting as opposed to tbe back of the net.

With twenty minutes left to play, England conceded a needless corner-kick that they were forced to defend. It was swung into the danger area, and the header goalwards swerved narrowly wide of the post with Butland rooted to the spot in the middle of his goal-line. Thankfully for Southgate's youngsters, they did not concede from the set-piece, although they knew they needed to test the 'keeper, Carlgren, if they were to get anything more than an underwhelming draw in truth.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was introduced into the evening's action with just over fifteen minutes left to play, and the talented Chelsea midfielder took his opportunity to shine commendably well. He looked cool and composed in possession of the ball, and his bursting runs forward from midfield were a problem to deal with for the Swedes. His mazy run into the box was concluded rather abruptly with a robust tackle to stop him as he instinctively thought of his options with team-mates in space. Ings tried to latch onto the ball, but was also tackled, and was visibly angry that they did not get a penalty-kick from it.

Time for a late winner - and what a way to finish 

Time was fast running out, and it appeared as though Sweden were holding on for what would have been a hard-fought draw. Then, out of the blue, Redmond fired a blistering strike goalwards - with Carlgren being forced into making a parry away for a corner. The resulting set-piece was drilled in, by Everton full-back Luke Garbutt, and after a limp attempt at clearing the danger, Lingard made the Swedes pay in stunning fashion. 

A sweetly-struck shot flew beyond Carlgren, who arguably should have done better to deal with the effort on-goal, but regardless, England were ahead. With just a few minutes left to play, they had all but sealed their first victory of the tournament - when they seemed settled on a hard-fought point. 

The fourth official signalled for three minutes of stoppage time to be played, and although Sweden looked dangerous on the counter attack and did well to trouble their opponents in the final few moments, England held on to record their first three points of the competition. They were not at their best, but nonetheless, they prevailed.

Next up, is Italy in their last group stage fixture. Proceedings are nicely poised with Portugal, Sweden and England all on three points - with the Portuguese set to face the Italians later this evening. Who will progress into the knock-out rounds? Time will tell. Gareth Southgate will be satisfied with his youngsters' display, especially given the fact that they were expected to lose and could easily have done so.

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