Leroy Lita missed an 88th-minute penalty as England were held to a goalless draw by the Czech Republic in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group B opener.
The second-half substitute grazed Zdenĕk Zlámal's right upright with his spot-kick two minutes from time after good work from David Nugent had drawn a handball from Roman Hubník. It would have edged a tense encounter at the Gelredome, which saw plenty of chances go begging after half-time. Kieran Richardson should have broken the deadlock on 49 minutes but contrived to apply too light a touch from two metres out. It marked the start of a vibrant spell. Daniel Pudil blazed over when he should have done better, though he almost made amends soon after, his fierce free-kick looking destined for the top corner before it was tipped on to the crossbar by Scott Carson. Next it was Nugent's turn, capitalising on a Luboš Hušek slip and firing centimetres past the post. It was not a day for strikers.
The previous person to play at the Gelredome had been Dutch trance artist DJ Tïesto, but there was little high tempo in a fractious first half where defences dominated. The expectant crowd had to wait until the seventh minute before Tom Huddlestone fired the first salvo of the game well wide of the post. It was to prove a nervous opening for the Tottenham Hotspur FC youngster and moments later his slip almost let in Ladislav Škorpil's side. František Rajtoral capitalised on some lax control midway through England's half before feeding the ball to Jan Kysela, whose deflected effort was parried to safety by Carson.
Much of the organised Czechs' more expansive play was coming from the colourful boots of Rajtoral, who needed little invitation to drift in from the right wing and work space for his forwards. He gained some success but his team lost momentum when Daniel Kolář was replaced by Martin Fillo on 18 minutes and England took the initiative. Nigel Reo-Coker disappointed when he was put through by Huddlestone and drove over, though the captain bore no fault moments later when he was denied by a superb last-ditch challenge from Michal Švec as he prepared to shoot after a blistering counterattack led by Nugent.
Despite these openings, England were struggling to marry possession with meaningful chances as the Czech Republic's deep-lying defence frustrated their pacy attackers, and they always appeared susceptible on the counterattack. With Anton Ferdinand joining the suspended Steven Taylor on the sidelines after failing to shake off a groin injury, coach Stuart Pearce had been forced to partner right-back Nedum Onuoha and Gary Cahill in central defence. The latter did well to block a goal-bound Kysela strike nine minutes before half-time yet at times he struggled to deal with the guile of the lone forward.
Indeed, the centre-back was booked three minutes after the restart; the turning of the tide, perhaps, in the battle between attack and defence. Within a minute England should have gone ahead when James Milner's cross was headed towards the back post by Nugent and Richardson missed with the goal at his mercy. It was a sign of things to come as even when he had only the goalkeeper to beat, Lita slotted wide.