England Under-21’s will have a tough opening match of the European Championship campaign, as they take on current holders Sweden in their curtain raiser.
Unfinished business with the U21 Championships
England’s trip to the continent will seem like a trip of redemption for the Three Lions, as they look to make up for their last showing in the competition in 2015. Two years ago they were under the watch of now senior manager Gareth Southgate and one of the tournament’s favourites, however they fell flat on their face as they finish bottom of their group with three points.
Not much has changed in terms of expectations for the squad but they will have a lot more experience going into this tournament, with manager Aidy Boothroyd naming six players with previous experience in the championships and he believes the mix will be good for squad morale.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who already know what the Euros are going to be like,” Boothroyd told fa.com after announcing his full squad. “And see themselves as having a little bit of unfinished business there.”
“I think that in itself is a really good motivation for them,” the coach admitted. “And that can spread through to the rest of the squad who are going for the first time.”
“It’ll be a brilliant experience for them and a big part of their tool-kit going forward as players,” Boothroyd added. “But just that integration in getting them ready is going to be a big thing for us.”
Looking to continue their reign
Sweden surprised many in the previous tournament as they beat out many of the favourites to seal the title, and they will be looking to prove that their victory was far from a fluke ahead of their curtain raiser in Poland.
Sweden just beat out Portugal on penalties two years ago, but will face a tough test in Group A with Slovakia and hosts Poland also in the group with themselves and England.
Coach Håkan Ericson might have lost the likes of now Manchester United's Victor Lindelöf, but have been replaced well with the likes of Kristoffer Olsson and young striker Joel Asoro. The young striker has been excellent since signing for Sunderland back in 2015, the 18-year-old has been linked with a move to Arsenal and when asked it took the youngster by surprise.
“People were a little shocked because I have played very little first-team football," he told Swedish media. “I've heard a little bit, but if I think about it too much, it becomes ‘what if, what if.’ I try not to think about it too much."
“It came as a shock. It is clear clubs contact each other and stuff, but it's my agent in charge of it," the young Black Cat added. "I try to focus on my football.”
Boothroyd has brought a very strong side to the tournament, but one of the major losses to what is an already strong side is Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. In the case of Rashford he has been plucked by Southgate for the recent draw and defeat to Scotland and France respectively, however Loftus-Cheek has been ruled out through a back injury but Boothroyd admitted he rather it happen sooner rather than later.
"We’ve lost Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus," he said. "Who are key players who helped put us in a good position against Norway to help us qualify."
“But I’d much prefer to lose them now rather than lose two players last time like Gareth did," the coach concluded. "With his best defender and best striker [Stones and Saido Berahino who were injured] in the space of 48 hours before the first game."
It is believed that the Swede's will have a fully-fit squad, with Asoro expected to lead the line on Friday afternoon.
England Under-21’s will take on Sweden Under-21’s in the European Championship Group Stages at the Kielce City Stadium, Poland on Friday, June 16with kick-off at 5pm BST