England’s summer of tournament football continues tonight when Aidy Boothroyd’s Under 21s begin their European Championship campaign against France Under 21s this evening. England have given high priority to the euros this summer. Whilst established under 23s in the senior side such as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold are missing, Gareth Southgate has however steadfastly refused to break up Boothroyd’s side and kept the likes of Phil Foden, James Maddison and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the Under 21 set up, rather than call them up for the Nations League campaign. England also sent an under strength squad to Toulon, giving Boothroyd the pick of the litter of Under 20 players.
Expectations on the Under 21s have never been higher. After the Under 20 & Under 17 World Cup and Under 19 European Championship triumphs of 2017, winning at Under 21 level would complete the set of youth level trophies. The backbone of Boothroyd’s squad are graduates from that Under 20 triumph in the likes of Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Fikayo Tomori and Kieran Dowell, with support from European Under 19 winners Mason Mount and Ryan Sessegnon and Under 17 player of the World Cup Foden.
Two years ago Boothroyd lead England to a respectable semi final finish at the same tournament with a side that featured current seniors Jordan Pickford, James Ward-Prowse and Ben Chilwell, but crucially missing the creativity of the injured Ruben Loftus-Cheek. England were good in patches but were hopelessly out played by Germany’s midfield in the semi final. Finding greater control in midfield through the likes of Foden, Mount and Hamza Choudhury will be crucial to England’s hopes in Italy. Forward power shouldn’t be a problem with Solanke in particular having an outstanding record at Under 21 level, whilst in-form Tammy Abraham is getting a second crack at the tournament he graced back in 2017. A wildcard in the squad remains Leicester’s Harvey Barnes who burst onto the England team in Toulon two years ago, his dribbling and willingness to take players on could prove crucial in the later stages of games.
Amongst the notable players England could face are Italy and Juventus starlet Moise Kean, Real Madrid new boy Luke Jovic from Serbia and most immediately Lyon’s former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele of France. England last won this tournament in 1984 with a side that featured the likes of Gary Stevens, Paul Walsh, Steve Hodge and tournament golden boot Mark Hateley. Could Boothroyd’s boys end 35 years of hurt?
England Group Games:
18th June vs France Under 21s
21st June vs Romania Under 21s
24th June vs Croatia Under 21s