UEFA European Under-21 Championship: A Football League Perspective
Some readers may have wondered where the two drawings that appear on each page of this site come from. The answer? Ben Piggott, whose fruits of graphite can also be seen at Daily Pen. Here, Ben uses his enthusiasm for tournament football to give us a summary of how all those Football Leaguers (or should that be Championshippers?) involved in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship have been getting on.
To continue the growing trend for pluralising footballers … you can keep your Christian Eriksons, your Xherdan Shaqiris and your Juan Matas… because nae team in the Championship can afford them. Instead, England’s second division (lower case) has provided a more modest crop for this month’s European U21 Championship. Their fortunes can be summed up by the fact that I’m able to write a review of how they fared before the knockout stage has even gotten underway.
Much like West Ham’s Czech stopper Marek Stech, Reading’s Alex McCarthy and Boro’s Jason Steele were on benchwarming duty for England’s uninspiring campaign. Senior flapper Frank Fielding of Derby got the chance to enhance his Olympic credentials and had a largely untroubled tournament. Aside from the opportunity to observe Ander Herrera’s great tip round the post, he was seldom troubled as England reverted to dogged type. A couple of good saves against Ukraine were a distant memory, though, when Jan Chramosta pranced in to equalise late on in the quasi-knockout match against the Czechs. Fielding came flopping out like a yellow fruitbat, but couldn’t earn his team a chance to be sent home by the Swiss in semis.
Man Utd pair Jones and Smalling made up a lolloping, doe-eyed partnership at the back, to the exclusion of West Ham’s James Tompkins. Tompkins allegedly played 20 times for his club this past season, but his lack of football is underlined by the fact that he is still far too handsome for a first-choice centre back. Name the last looker to hold down a regular spot at the back for the Three Lions…
Meanwhile, Connor Wickham discovered that being every Prem fan’s lower-division namecheck wasn’t enough to win him a single minute on the pitch. This was despite his teammates struggling to conjure a goal. With a bit of luck, though, he’ll get a chance to fill his boots in Columbia next month when Brian Eastick takes our spotty yoots over there for the U20 World Cup.
The Danish hosts boasted McCarthy’s custodial clubmate Mikkel Andersen in nets, fresh from looking confused in this promo for the Switzerland game. Anderson was left similarly nonplussed as he played all 270 minutes of Denmark’s campaign, shipping five including the ultimately disastrous 92 minute boomer that put them out on goal difference. The goal came from Hjotur Valgardson, from whom Anderson had earlier pulled off a genuine worldy. In all honesty it was probably the rush of blood for Belarus’s opener in the second group game that did the damage, although his airy waft at Iceland’s second goal will have been equally galling.
For their part the much fancied Icelanders, who also went out on goal difference in that group, were packed with (now ex) Championship faces. West Ham were good enough to release ever-present centre-back Holmar Eyjolfsson from his contract so that he could play with a clear head, and the shop window of back-to-back 2-0 defeats has since earned him a move to VFL Bochum. Reading fans will be wistful to hear that Gylfi Sigurðsson turned out for his country, coming to life a bit in the Denmark game when his peachy far-post dipper was headed home for 2-0.
The most eventful tournament from a Championship perspective was probably that of Coventry stalwart Aron Gunnarsson. Not that he had a good time of it, mind. He was sent off in the first match after sternly bundling the wonderfully named Stanislav Dragun and in doing so conceded a cast-iron peno. After a refreshing suspension young Aron was back in time for a booking in the final group game and a quick game of musical statues for the Danes’ consolation.