England U21 0-0 Sweden U21: Pickford penalty save keeps the defending champions at bay

Jordan Pickford went some way to proving his hefty price tag when he made a crucial late penalty save in England's opening game of the Under-21 European Championships.

Chances at a premium in lacklustre first half

England did well to keep defending champions Sweden quiet for large chunks of the first half, looking fluent and sharp in possession. Their main outlet came down the flanks through Jacob Murphy and Nathan Redmond but quality delivery in the final third was lacking as lone striker Tammy Abraham ended up feeding off scraps.

Abraham hooked two efforts over the crossbar at both the start and the end of the opening 45 minutes, though Murphy went closest for England when he fizzed an effort inches off target from just outside the penalty area. Meanwhile, Pawel Cibicki manufactured the best chance for Sweden as he blazed over from a tight angle.

With two talented sides opening the tournament, it was a disappointing start to proceedings as neither side formulated a shot on target.

Both sides hit the woodwork before Pickford's penalty stop

The second half began in earnest as both sides continued to struggle in their attempts to make their mark on the game. Yet it was Malmo's Cibicki who almost unleashed an opener from out of the blue. Picking up the ball on the left wing, Cibicki cut inside before curling an effort past Pickford only to rattle the crossbar.

Sweden began to look the more dangerous as substitute Carlos Strandberg burst away from the England defence before slashing an effort at the side netting.
Yet England grew back into the contest immediately and almost registered on the scoresheet with a spell of luck. Alfie Mawson's header wasn't cleared by the Sweden defence and Ben Chilwell's strike cannoned off a defender and onto the crossbar. Moments later, James Ward-Prowse saw a dipping free-kick palmed away.

However, with just ten minutes remaining, Chilwell lunged into a challenge and gave away a penalty to Sweden. Linus Wahlqvist confidentially stepped up and tried to clip the spot-kick down the middle, only to be thwarted by Pickford who also saved the rebound from Strandberg.

After the greatest spark of the game threatened to provide a lively end to proceedings, both sides appeared to be happy with a point and the game filtered out into a goalless draw. Other than the two strikes that hit the crossbar and the penalty incident, it was a ten minute period that summed up a nervy and lacklustre opening contest for two sides who were rated as hopefuls to lift the trophy in a couple of weeks time.

The pressure is now on for both teams as they prepare to take on Poland and Slovakia in the final group games.