England rounded off what goalkeeper Jason Steele called a "bitterly disappointing" UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals with a 1-0 defeat by hosts Israel. This left the Young Lions with a record of P3, L3, and all that after coming into the tournament on the back of a nine-game winning run without conceding. It was England's fourth finals in a row, all under Stuart Pearce, and Steele admitted that it was the performances as much as the results that had hit the squad really hard. Pearce's men fly home.
"I'm a sensitive guy, very emotional, on the verge of disturbed," said Israel coach Guy Luzon after his side concluded their Group A campaign with victory against England. "It was very important to me to leave Israel with a win," said Luzon. He now packs his bags for Belgium, where he will take over R. Standard de Liège. Israel depart the competition with four Group A points, one behind second-placed Norway, who scored a 91st-minute equaliser against the tournament hosts on matchday one. "We are not disappointed," said Luzon. "We all know our level and I'm very proud of my players."
Italy coach Devis Mangia said it would have been "a great pity" if they had lost to Norway and finished second in Group A. Instead Andrea Bertolacci's late strike ensured the Azzurrini progressed as section winners and the coach is looking forward to sitting back and watching the outcome in Group B, which will determine whether his side face Spain or the Netherlands. "Spain are a great team who won it last time," he said. "We played them in November, which was a long time ago, but they put us in some difficult situations. However, we caused them problems too."
Mangia gave little away regarding the fitness of attacking midfielder Lorenzo Insigne: "We are taking it day by day, step by step." For Alberto Paloschi, who made his first finals appearance since the last-four defeat against Germany in 2009, Italy's path to success is clear. "The Netherlands and Spain are great teams but to win a European title we will have to beat them both," he said.
There were mixed emotions for Norway after they conceded a late equaliser to surrender top spot in Group A to Italy, but qualified for only their second U21 semi-finals. Coach Tor Ole Skullerud's overwhelming feeling, though, was one of pride after his side went through the group stage unbeaten. The break between their final Group A game and the semi-finals is a welcome one for the Norway boss, who vows to have his players ready for whoever they face. "An extra day off will give us energy," he said. "I hope we can use that to look strong in the semis."
Norway's starting XI against Italy had 55 senior caps between, a wealth of experience and a demonstration of squad depth that Skullerud hopes will see them cause a stir in the semi-finals. "They have all contributed and that makes our group strong," he added. "Picking players for the semis will be a positive but difficult task."
Matthias Ginter, who has started both matches so far, promised that "we'll give it our all for Germany" in their final game against Russia on Wednesday before heading home. The SC Freiburg midfielder felt that the "criticism directed at our performances is somewhat deserved", but stressed that many players will still take a "lot of positive experiences from this tournament".
Germany's last training session in Israel took place at the Hodorov training ground on Tuesday evening and Rainer Adrion may shuffle his pack for the Russia match. With several players playing not eligible for the next U21 cycle, Adrion may well give run-outs to some of the squad’s younger players to give them some valuable experience.
The Dutch squad enjoyed some relaxation time on Tuesday morning before Danny Hoesen, scorer of the fourth goal against Russia, joined coach Cor Pot at the late afternoon press conference. Undeterred by the notorious Tel Aviv traffic, Pot was in good spirits and looking to continue "a certain euphoria" that his team have started back home.
The coach also reported no major injury concerns, while Hoesen has also been reaping the rewards of the Jong Oranje's impressive start to the tournament. "I hope every time I get a chance I play as best as I can," said the 22-year-old AFC Ajax forward. "I get a lot of reaction from friends and family, who are very keen and eager to follow the tournament."
Taras Burlak, the Russia captain, spoke of his sadness at the end of an era with the U21s but reflected on the progress made by Nikolai Pisarev's squad during the 2011-13 competition. "It's a pity that this team's time is almost over," he said. "We have been together for two and a half years and after losing to the Netherlands, we were all down. But we've been making progress during this time – some of us were already called up to the national team and have showed what they can do at their clubs."
Pisarev was given an unexpected worry during training ahead of Wednesday's final group match when Georgi Schennikov suffered a knock to the head but the Russian camp are confident he will be available to play.
Julen Lopetegui said he would choose a competitive lineup as he looks to beat the Netherlands to top spot in Group B. There may be a starting role for forward Álvaro Morata – scorer of two goals in 44 minutes as a substitute – while further back, Spain will look to maintain the tournament's only unblemished defensive record.
Meanwhile, Lopetegui was full of praise for the Dutch as he spelled out their attacking promise, saying: "They have got a lot of quality and in this group they are a brilliant generation. Twelve of these players have senior caps, and many of them are in the senior national team."
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