England have once again fallen short at a major tournament after Gareth Southgate’s side capitulated against Italy, resulting in a third successive group-stage exit at the Under-21 European Championship.
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A year to the day since a goalless draw with Costa Rica rubber-stamped the senior team’s disastrous World Cup, the new generation blew a golden opportunity to progress to the semi-finals in the Czech Republic.
England’s destiny was in their own hands after the last-gasp win against Sweden, but it proved a false dawn as the Azzurrini triumphed 3-1 and the national team was once again found wanting.
Questions will be asked of Southgate and his selections after the Young Lions finished bottom of Group B, but few expect the head coach to pay with his job like predecessor Stuart Pearce.
— Ian Taylor (@IanTaylor7) June 24, 2015
Unlike the unmitigated disaster of Israel two years ago, this tournament has been more a case of what could have been – epitomised by Danny Ings and Harry Kane coming close before defensive hesitancy allowed Italy to take the lead.
Within two minutes of Andrea Belotti impressively turning home against the run of play, Luigi Di Biagio’s side were celebrating a second as Marco Benassi’s low strike took a crucial deflection off Ben Gibson and trickled home.
Jesse Lingard attempted to add to his wonder-strike against Sweden after half-time, but he and his England team-mates only fell further behind thanks to man-of-the-match Benassi’s fine header.
Nathan Redmond rifled home in stoppage-time but it was too little too late as England exited at the group stage – a fate they shared with Italy after Sweden’s late equaliser against Portugal.
Firstly, a quickly-taken Italian free-kick caught the backline napping, with Domenico Berardi sending in a cross directed home exquisitely by Belotti. It was a 25th-minute sucker punch followed by yet another two minutes later.
England U21’s got perfect tournament prep for the senior team. Getting overhyped and then knocked out early is what we’re great at!
— Niall Flannery (@nyloflannaz) June 24, 2015
England’s defence looked despondent and Italy went at them, with Benassi taking aim from the edge of the box and beating Jack Butland with an effort which took a deflection off Gibson’s knee.
Benassi had his second after the break – a long throw was flicked on and he rose to head past Butland and rubber-stamp England’s exit.
England did net in stoppage-time through a wonderful Redmond strike but it mattered little as the Young Lions again went home early.
Manchester City’s football development executive Patrick Vieira rates Raheem Sterling highly and believes the club’s interest in signing the Liverpool forward is understandable.
City have already had two offers – the latest worth £40 million (Dh231m) – rejected but reports suggest they are preparing a third for the England international.
Liverpool value the 20-year-old, who still has two years remaining on his current deal but has refused to sign a new £100,000-a-week (Dh578,000) contract, at £50m-plus (Dh289m).
And while some have criticised that valuation Vieira is a fan of the youngster. “I think if you go down and ask 10 people what they think about him, I think nine would give you a positive answer,” Vieira said. “I would be part of the nine people because he’s shown how good he is, how well he’s been doing at Liverpool.
“If he is in the market, not just City would be interested in him. “But that’s the first team and I’m not part of the first team, I work with the academy so I’m just giving you my opinion.”
It has been suggested to me that £35.5m represents City’s last bid. Would already make Sterling world’s most expensive teenager
— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) June 17, 2015
Vieira also believes the loss of their Premier League title honour to Chelsea last season should be viewed in context.
“The target of the football club is to always try to win the Premier League title. You only have one team who can win it,” he added.
“Chelsea won it last year, so that means United, City, Arsenal and Liverpool were not going to be happy, but I think what is important is to analyse the situation and analyse what the club has achieved in the past four years. If you analyse the last four years, it’s been more successful than anything else.
“Don’t forget that four or five years ago, the club wasn’t at that level. I think the journey of the club so far has been fantastic.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool are keeping a close eye on the Copa America as they pursue their interest in South Americans Roberto Firmino, Carlos Bacca and Salomon Rondon.
Liverpool’s new signing Roberto Firmino. http://t.co/oaPb1ReyfF
— Football__Tweet (@Football__Tweet) June 24, 2015
The club have a delegation at the tournament in Chile as they look to bolster their summer recruitment. Manager Brendan Rodgers is keen to bring in another forward and the £32.5m (Dh187m) release clause of Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke is considered too high.
Therefore he has turned his attention to Bacca, who scored 28 goals in La Liga last season, and Rondon, a Venezuela international who has 20 goals in 39 matches for Zenit. The club believe both represent better value for money, with reported fees of £20m (Dh115m) and £15m (Dh86.6m) respectively.
Firmino’s agent Roger Wittmann has already confirmed he is destined for the Premier League, while the 23-year-old, when asked about his future yesterday, said: “It is in the hands of God.”
Parma will drop into Serie D, the top tier of Italy’s amateur leagues, after administrators received no takeover offers prior to yesterday’s deadline.
Parma ended a nightmarish 2014/15 campaign bottom of the Serie A table having been deducted points on several occasions for the club’s failure to pay players and staff as they sunk into the financial doldrums.
They were declared bankrupt in March and went into administration pending the search for investors to take over the club and pay off a €22.6m (Dh94.2m) debt. Despite automatically dropping into Serie B, the club’s failure to find a buyer mean they are set to fall into Serie D.
American-Italian Mike Piazza (r) and Italian Giuseppe Corrado were reported to be heading separate takeover bids in recent days. But Corrado walked away from talks on Sunday night, and Monday morning La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Piazza had also ended his interest.
“It is with great sadness and regret that I have to announce the end of talks to purchase Parma FC,” said Piazza.
It is a spectacular fall from grace for the club, whose former players include Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lillian Thuram and Hernan Crespo, and punched above its weight to challenge for the Scudetto in 1996/1997, finishing two points behind champions Juventus.
During their 1992-2002 heyday, Parma claimed seven trophies including two UEFA Cups, three Coppa Italias, a European Super Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup.