England Under-21 boss Gareth Southgate blamed collective failure in both penalty areas as the Young Lions failed to qualify from the group stages of the European Championships for the third successive tournament after defeat to Italy last night.
The only chink of light for England in an otherwise drab performance was winger Nathan Redmond’s last-gasp strike, but the damage was done during an abject first half when Italy striker Andrea Belotti and midfielder Marco Benassi both scored.
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Benassi’s header in the second period compounded England’s misery, although Italy were denied a semi-final place of their own by Sweden, who progressed thanks to a late leveller against Group B winners Portugal.
England only dropped two points as they cruised through qualification for the tournament proper, but they were unable to replicate that form and finished rock bottom of the group, just as Stuart Pearce’s charges did two years ago.
“In many aspects we did get the desired performance in terms of the way we moved the ball and created chances but we’ve let really poor goals in,” said Southgate.
“You can be as attractive as you like between the penalty boxes but games are decided at either end and we didn’t take the chances we had until the last minute and we let poor goals in.
“It’s a cruel lesson for them as I can’t be critical of their attitude, their application or their effort. They have been a tremendous group to work with and they are hurting enormously.”