England Under-21s learnt a valuable lesson in their final warm-up game ahead of the European Championship, according to coach Lee Carsley. Despite winning their three previous friendlies against Germany, Italy and France, the Young Lions were beaten 2-1 by Croatia. The defeat may have been unwelcome, but it allowed Carsley to blood new talent and experiment with different formations.
The match started with Croatia dominating possession and forcing England to play on the counter-attack. After a tense opening half-hour, debutant Rico Lewis gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area, which Martin Baturina converted with a stunning curling effort into the top corner. England pushed hard for an equaliser but were punished again when Leicester City’s Luke Thomas brought down Matija Frigan in the box, and Dion Drena Beljo calmly slotted the resulting penalty past debutant goalkeeper Josh Griffiths.
Despite the setback, England rallied and dominated the second half. However, they found Croatia’s goalkeeper Dominik Kotarski in inspired form, saving superbly from Morgan Gibbs-White’s late header.
Reflecting on the game, Carsley said, “We’ve tried to look at the four friendlies as a whole, tried to take away the results in terms of winning and losing. Obviously, we try to win every game but it’s important that we are in a strong place in the summer.”
The defeat will be a disappointment for England fans, but Carsley will take heart from the performance of his younger players and the experience they gained. The team will now look forward to a tough opening fixture against Switzerland at the European Championship.
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