Pride, three to watch and Love Island – England prepare for U21 opener


England Under-21s are hopeful of improving on recent disappointing finals performances

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England Under-21s open their Euro 2017 campaign against Sweden on Friday with striker Tammy Abraham hoping to emulate the success of the nation’s under-20s.

They defeated Venezuela 1-0 last Sunday to win the Under-20 World Cup.

And Abraham – a former under-19 international – said: “They did the country so proud and we would love to follow in their footsteps.

“We want to show we are the next up-and-coming players for the England squad, so there is a bit of pressure.”

Abraham, who is back at Chelsea after scoring 26 goals for Bristol City last season, is 19 and was eligible for the under-20 team but was selected in the under-21 squad by Aidy Boothroyd.

“It’s bittersweet,” added the striker, who played at the Under-19 European Championship in 2016.

“It’s a great achievement. I’m sure they’re proud of themselves.

“The whole country is proud of them. They deserved to win it. But I’m here to win the Euros and we’ve got a lot of good players, so we’re in with a chance.

“It’s massively inspiring. We’re going into a massive tournament now with the under-21s and it would be nice to end it on a blast. The boys are confident.”

Love Island the secret weapon?

Nathan Redmond, who is back with the under-21s after making his senior England debut against Germany in March, revealed the players have been relaxing by watching dating show Love Island.

“I managed to get it on the laptop so a few of the boys were round watching it,” said the 23-year-old Southampton forward.

“It’s another thing which keeps everyone together.

“We have games rooms and a lot of stuff to keep us occupied. A lot of the boys appreciate the downtime and chilling out. When you’ve got time to take your mind off football, you take it.”

An expanded format

The under-21 tournament is held every two years and this year’s finals have been expanded to 12 teams, split into three groups of four. The group winners and the best-placed runner-up will progress to the semi-final stage.

Sweden – who England play on Friday – won the title in 2015

Six venues will be used for the 15-day tournament, which will conclude with the final in Krakow on 30 June.

England’s match at the Kielce City Stadion in Poland is the opening game of the tournament and kicks off at 17:00 BST.

Boothroyd’s team qualified by winning a group that included Norway and Switzerland.

However, the under-21s have disappointed since reaching the final back in 2009, failing to qualify from their group in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In fact, they have won just one game at the finals over the past three tournaments.

This year, watch out for Spain’s Marco Asensio, who scored for Real Madrid in their recent Champions League final win over Juventus, while Portugal have Renato Sanches – named young player of the tournament at Euro 2016 – in their squad.

England’s group games
Live text commentary on all matches
16 June: Sweden v England (17:00 BST)
19 June: Slovakia v England (17:00 BST)
22 June: England v Poland (19:45 BST)

A knockout success?

BBC Radio 5 live senior football reporter Ian Dennis: “England are not regarded as one of the favourites but Boothroyd will be aiming – at the very least – for his team to reach the knockout stages of this expanded tournament.

“I spoke to him recently and we discussed their match against Sweden, who are the defending champions. Understandably, he described as them a “difficult team” and it is worth noting Sweden finished above Spain in qualifying. Their goals were shared among 15 different players.

“The focus for now is purely to get out of the group and it’s important England start well.

“Boothroyd told me ‘it’s a lot easier if you get some points on the board from your opening game’ but England have not won their first fixture in the past three Euros.

“The fancied sides? Spain, Germany and Italy are right up there.”

England’s three to watch

By Ian Dennis

Pickford had an outstanding season for Sunderland despite their relegation

Jordan Pickford: Everton-bound, outstanding for Sunderland and another opportunity to showcase his talents on the European stage. Last summer he was part of the team that won the Toulon tournament.

Nathaniel Chalobah: At 22 this is a player who should be playing on a regular basis. Back in March, Gareth Southgate talked about the Chelsea man pushing for a defensive midfield role with the England senior team.

The England manager will be in Poland so it’s a chance to catch his eye with options elsewhere limited.

Nathan Redmond: I was in the Czech Republic two years ago and he was England’s best player in an otherwise disappointing campaign.

His game has improved since his switch from Norwich to Southampton and he has the potential to be one of the stars of the whole tournament.

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