European Under-21 Championship: England and France lose opening games

By Sports Desk March 25, 2021

England and France suffered 1-0 defeats to Switzerland and Denmark respectively in their opening 2021 European Under-21 Championship fixtures on Thursday.

Switzerland were appearing at the tournament for a first time in a decade and edged a narrow win in Group D thanks to Dan Ndoye's fortuitous second-half strike.

England have failed to make it past the group stage in four of the past five tournaments and have left themselves with an uphill struggle to secure one of the two spots for the knockout phase.

Aidy Boothroyd's side created precious few goalscoring opportunities with a long-range attempt from Tom Davies and Callum Hudson-Odoi's free-kick their best attempts, only once hitting the target.

Ndoye sealed the win for Switzerland 13 minutes from time as the ball rebounded off his standing foot then looped over England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Elsewhere in that pool, Portugal earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Croatia after substitute Fabio Viera scored the only goal of the game.

Portugal had the best of the chances with Croatia goalkeeper Adrian Semper forced to make three saves before Viera came off the bench to net the winner.

France, who reached the semi-finals of the 2019 tournament, were left to rue missed chances in their defeat to Denmark as Amine Gouiri was twice denied and Boubacar Kamara curled wide.

Denmark had just 34.3 per cent of the possession and only three shots but crucially scored in the 75th minute when Anders Dreyer rounded Alban Lafont before scoring following a superb defence-splitting pass from Jacob Bruun Larsen.

Russia top Group C, though, after an emphatic 4-1 win over Iceland that included an impressive display by 17-year-old debutant Arsen Zakharyan.

Fedor Chalov, who finished with three assists from four chances created, opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Zakharyan had been tripped.

Nayair Tiknizyan notched Russia's second and then Zakharyan scored the pick of the goals with a fine sole strike on the stroke of half-time before Denis Makarov added the fourth with a low finish.

Sveinn Aron Gudjohnsen, son of ex-Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur, headed in a consolation goal for Iceland with only their second attempt just before the hour mark.

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    Rigobert Song expressed regret over Cameroon's first two World Cup displays after they were eliminated from Group G despite becoming the first African team to beat Brazil at the tournament.

    Cameroon needed to beat the pre-tournament favourites to have any chance of joining them in the last 16 on Friday, and they did so in dramatic fashion as Vincent Aboubakar scored a stoppage-time winner before receiving a second yellow card for celebrating by removing his shirt.

    However, Switzerland's thrilling 3-2 win over Serbia ensured Murat Yakin's side finished two points clear of Cameroon, condemning them to a sixth consecutive group-stage exit at the World Cup.

    The Indomitable Lions did at least go out on a high by ending Brazil's perfect World Cup record against African sides (previously played seven, won seven), but Song felt the result showed Cameroon could have gone further.

    "I didn't even realise that this was such a historic victory. We are one of the African countries who have played more World Cups than most, and now we've beaten Brazil," Song said.

    "My players deserve to be congratulated. They showed tonight they could have done better in the first two games [a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland and a 3-3 draw with Serbia].

    "I think we do have a feeling of regret. Now we realise we could have done better. But we need to look on the positive side as well. 

    "I'm trying to get across a team spirit, that lion's spirit, which needs to be the key to Cameroon teams.

    "We realise now we could have done better in this tournament. We're a young team and today we've seen our young team getting stronger and stronger."

    Cameroon began 2022 by finishing third at the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil, and with just over a year to prepare for the next edition of that tournament – which was pushed back to January 2024 due to weather concerns in Ivory Coast, Song is backing them to improve further.

    "There's another tournament in 2024 and we've built up some momentum now," Song added.

    "I'm satisfied with tonight's performance. I took over the national team not too long ago and I think we are progressing and improving, so I'm proud of this team."

  • Cameroon 1-0 Brazil: Indomitable Lions bow out despite last-gasp Aboubakar strike Cameroon 1-0 Brazil: Indomitable Lions bow out despite last-gasp Aboubakar strike

    Vincent Aboubakar fired Cameroon to a last-gasp 1-0 win over Brazil before being sent off on Friday, but it was not enough to save the Indomitable Lions from an early World Cup exit – or to prevent the Selecao from topping Group G.

    Having seen Brazil secure a place in the round of 16 by beating Switzerland last time out, Tite made nine changes to his side, which resulted in a disjointed Selecao showing at the Lusail Stadium.

    Devis Epassy kept Cameroon in the contest with several fine saves before Aboubakar nodded home a stoppage-time winner for Rigobert Song's men – and was promptly shown a second yellow card for removing his shirt.

    However, the result was ultimately immaterial as Switzerland clung on to beat Serbia 3-2 in the group's other game, ensuring Brazil topped the pool and sealing Cameroon's elimination. 

  • Serbia 2-3 Switzerland: Shaqiri silences the jeers Serbia 2-3 Switzerland: Shaqiri silences the jeers

    Switzerland playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri proved Serbia's nemesis once more by helping knock Dragan Stojkovic's men out of the World Cup on a tumultuous night at Stadium 974.

    Shaqiri netted a last-minute winner against Serbia at the 2018 tournament in Russia and celebrated by making an eagle shape with his hands to show his support for Kosovo, the country of his birth and a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. That independence is not recognised by Serbia. 

    The Chicago Fire man was booed and jeered throughout while at least one Serbia fan was thrown out for anti-Kosovo chanting.

    Shaqiri had the last laugh with the opening goal as Switzerland, who came into the game knowing a draw would most likely be enough, advanced from Group G with a dramatic 3-2 win, alongside Brazil despite their surprise 1-0 defeat to Cameroon.

    Switzerland nearly went ahead inside the first minute when Granit Xhaka's partially blocked shot fell beautifully for Breel Embolo but Serbia goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic made a smart block before parrying Xhaka's follow up.

    Andrija Zivkovic struck the post from 20 yards in response for Serbia but Murat Yakin's men deservedly led after 20 minutes.

    Djibril Sow recovered Ricardo Rodriguez's left-wing cross and nudged it into the path of Shaqiri, who fired home via a deflection off Strahinja Pavlovic before running off to celebrate by putting a finger to his lips in front of the s

    Serbia responded superbly six minutes later when Dusan Tadic's left-wing cross was guided brilliantly past Gregor Kobel by Aleksandar Mitrovic.

    Shaqiri arrowed wide when clean through, before Tadic impressed again to find Vlahovic, who turned smartly to fire past Kobel despite Remo Freuler almost taking the ball away from the Juventus striker.

    It was Switzerland’s turn to dig deep and they did so admirably, Embolo turning in Silvan Widmer’s cross at the far post to make it the first time since England v Argentina in 1998 that both teams had scored at least twice in a World Cup game before half-time.

    Switzerland completed the turnaround three minutes into the second half. Shaqiri chipped the ball in for Ruben Vargas, who flicked the ball beautifully on for Freuler to finish expertly.

    Tempers frayed as Serbia sensed their time in Qatar was coming to an end - substitute goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic was booked for encroaching on to the pitch to confront the referee while a public address announcement asked for Serbian fans to stop making discriminatory chants and gestures.

    There was one final flashpoint deep into stoppage time when Nikola Milenkovic and Xhaka clashed with several players looking to get involved. Both Milenkovic and Xhaka - another man with ethnic Albanian heritage linked to Kosovo - were booked.
     

    What does it mean? Ronaldo and Portugal await

    While Switzerland go on to a meeting with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday, Serbia will head home.

    On the balance of play it was the right outcome. Switzerland wobbled towards the end of the first half but, for the most part, played with a composure that Serbia lacked.

    Shaqiri joins illustrious duo

    Shaqiri may be the man the Serbian fans love to hate but he showed his endearing quality once more with Switzerland's opening goal.

    It meant he became just one of three players to score at each of the last three World Cup tournaments. The other two? Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

    Evergreen Tadic shows his class

    Tadic may be 34 but he remains Serbia's creative hub. He supplied the opener with a delicious cross from the left and was also instrumental in the second, although Freuler should have done better with his attempted clearance.

    Whether he continues to play international football remains to be seen but he will leave a sizeable hole should he opt to stand down.

    What's next?

    Switzerland finish as runners-up to Brazil in Group G, and go on to face Portugal in four days' time.

    Serbia go home having taken just one point from their three games, against Cameroon.

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