England's Under-21s Overcome Finland

England got off to a good start by claiming maximum points, but the performance was far from inspired...
England Under-21 2-1 Finland Under-21

Group B Standings

England's hopes of beginning their Under-21 European Championships in a manner befitting the hopes of the nation looked to have been scuppered early on in the game as Chelsea's young defender Michael Mancienne was dismissed after 30 minutes of play for wrestling Berat Sadik to the ground inside the danger zone.

The converted penalty was perhaps no more than Finland deserved, as the opening half - and especially the first quarter of play - was dominated by the Finns, and Sadik in particular caused the English defence problems. In the third minute, Manchester City's Micah Richards was alert to Sadik's early darting runs and the Englishman managed to block a shot from Sadik after a good control.

Mancienne showed signs of losing his composure during the game's genesis, as a central ball caused the defender - who was the recepient of a full call-up in 2008 - a high degree of panic, and there was a distinct lack of communication between him and goalkeeper Joe Hart, as Parikka was sniffing for a chance.

Despite Finland's spells of pressure, it was England who were first on the scoresheet, as Lee Cattermole beat Jaakkola after a probing run into the box and some neat build-up play from Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agonlahor.

Imposing central midfielder Tim Sparv, formerly a team-mate of Theo Walcott in Southampton's youth side, successfully converted Finland's aforementioned spot-kick in the 32nd minute and the majority of the attending crowd were in raptures as an almost carnival atmosphere ensued. Sparv is a member of Halmstad's side, so he was therefore effectively playing on his home turf today.

Following the half-time break, it took eight minutes for England to restore their lead as James Milner sent in a well weighted cross from a corner-kick and Micah Richards' bullet-header burst over the line and into goal.

Perparim Hetemaj had two chances to level the scores, both from distance, but both were blazed harmlessly over the crossbar.

The warm temperatures must have proved too hot for one observer, as play was interrupted with just 20 minutes remaining as a streaker, wearing nothing but a smile, burst onto the field.

That was to be the last notable event, as a series of tactical subsitutions were brought on by Stuart Pearce, for England, as attacker Agbonlahor was replaced with burgeoning versatile defence-minded midfielder Jack Rodwell.

England did enough for the three points, but the fantastic start the Three Lions were hoping for was only reflected in the point accumulation, not the performance.


England - Hart, Cranie, Richards, Mancienne, Gibbs, Cattermole, Noble, Muamba, Milner, Walcott, Agbonlahor.

Finland - Jaakkola, Aho, Portin, Turunen, Raitala, Hamalainen, Hetemaj, Sparv, Hetemaj, Sadik, Parikka.

Goal-scorers - Cattermole (15), Sparv (31 - pen), Richards (53).

Sent-off - Michael Mancienne (31).

Alan Dawson, Goal.com