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Euro U21, Day 1: England disappoint, Slovakia impress as competition begins

England 0-0 Sweden; Poland 1-2 Slovakia

England U21 Training Session and Press Conference Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

The 2017 UEFA European U21 Championships — not sure what’s the accepted shorthand, Euro U21s or U21 Euros or Euro U21 or whatever — began on Friday, with two matches from Group A on the schedule, starting with defending champions Sweden vs. the always promising England youths and hosts Poland taking on surprisingly excellent Slovakia. Of the four, the Slovaks were the only ones to really live up to any of their billing.

Theirs was the later match, but let’s start there. It took Poland less than a minute to open the scoring, with Patryk Lipski meeting emphatically a perfect cross from Tomasz Kędziora, but the rest of the first half belonged to the blue shirts of Poland’s southern neighbors.

Left winger Jaroslav Mihalík, who ironically plays in Poland, was especially impressive, while the tiny little former Ajax trainee Stanislav Lobotka ran the midfield. He currently plays at one of my all-time favorite opponents that Chelsea have ever faced in the Champions League, FC NorthJellyBelly, but if he continues to impress like he did in this game, he just might be looking at a move to a more glamorous league than Denmark. Rumors abound of a €10m+ move already.

Unfortunately, hometown-hero Lászlo Bénes only made a brief cameo at the very end, by which time right back Martin Valijent got the Slovaks level and another hometown-hero (who only plays for DAC rather than having actually been born there) Pavol Šafranko scored what proved to be the winning goal. Valijent’s goal was especially typical of some of the slick moves put together by Slovakia — peep the turn by no.8, Martin Chrien, too.

Poland improved in the second half and Slovakia needed an immense save (or two) from Adrián Chovan, but overall, it was a fantastic start for them.

Especially because England slumped to a 0-0 draw against (defending champions, for what little that means at this level) Sweden earlier in the day and only the group winners are guaranteed to advance to the knockout rounds — three groups of four determine the four semifinalist: the three groups winners and the best second place team.

England need a bit of goalkeeping heroics, too, with £30m-man (that’s not a typo) Jordan Pickford saving a penalty and then the rebound, too.

Unfortunately, none of the Chelsea trio, all of whom started, made much of an impact. Tammy had a couple half-chances but Baker was largely anonymous and Chalobah was probably the worst of the lot. There will be better days ahead for them, though they cannot afford to drop any more points.


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