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Euro U21: Abraham impressive as England fight back against Slovakia and ascend to top of group

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Denmark v Italy - 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

England U21 disappointed and the much vaunted Chelsea trio largely underwhelmed in their opening match of the U21 Euro tournament in Poland on Friday, barely hanging on to a 0-0 draw against Sweden and making their remaining two group games must-win affairs.

The first of those was against Slovakia on Monday, and for the first 45 minutes, the script looked to be repeating itself — except with a goal down this time as Slovakia went ahead halfway through the first-half — a surprise given just how well-oiled and unstoppable many of these players looked last summer at the Toulon Tournament.

Now, somehow, a midfield comprised of the talents of Baker, Swift, Ward-Prowse, Chalobah, and Redmond looked slow and weak and ponderous and bereft of ideas, and while Tammy Abraham worked hard up top, he was often isolated against the graduates from the Martin Škrtel School of Defending. To his credit, the 19-year-old held his own despite not featuring directly any of the goals — though England’s winner did come from a tussle he won against Milan Škriniar, who’s a regular in Serie A for Sampdoria.

That’s not to say that England were great by any means, but they did score the crucial goals at the crucial times and held on strong during the final 30 minutes to see out the result. Slovakia showed a fair dose of naïveté and nerves throughout the match, and especially the second half, all of which played into England’s hands.

With the 2-1 win and the 2-2 draw between Sweden and Poland in the second game of the day, England are top of the group and control their own destiny. A win against Poland on Thursday would guarantee a spot in the semifinals.