A late controversial goal from Germany’s Felix Uduokhai condemned England U21s to their first defeat in two years at AFC Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium.
The centre-back smashed the young Germans ahead in stoppage time after a great Benjamin Henrichs cross, but England were waiting for play to be stopped after an injury to Kyle Walker-Peters.
It was a cruel end to an enthralling contest on a sprightly spring evening.
Germany dominated the first half, with Hoffenheim’s Nadiem Amiri proving incredibly hot to handle.
They eventually went ahead through Dortmund’s Mahmoud Dahoud, and then struck the post with Luca Waldschmidt.
But their dominance counted for nothing as England equalised on half time. Dominic Solanke, playing in his club’s home stadium, made the most of a defensive error and tapped England level.
It set the tone for a relatively end-to-end second half, which looked to be petering out until Uduokhai’s late winner.
The manner of the defeat is a blow for the Young Lions’ preparations for this summer’s European Championships in Italy.
But manager Aidy Boothroyd will still take heart from the way some players performed, especially Solanke and the ever-consistent Phil Foden.
Stefan Kuntz and his Germany U21 looked up for the task on the South Coast, and it promises to be an excellent clash in Italy if the sides meet again.
Large amount of changes
Boothroyd rang the changes for his Young Lions side. Only Kieran Dowell and Foden kept their places from the 1-1 draw against Poland at Ashton Gate. Stefan Kuntz was more conservative with his Germany side – Uduokhai replacing Jordan Tarunarigha.
Both teams were on long unbeaten runs going into this match – the English on 19 matches since their last defeat, and the Germans on 11. The Germans are defending champions of the U21 European Championships as well and were the last team to beat this England side. A lot, then, rode on this friendly in Dorset.
Gareth Southgate, fresh from the senior squad’s thrashing of Montenegro, was also in attendance on the South Coast for this tie which promised to tell a lot about two tournament favourites. Southgate’s faith in youth is well-known, and England’s youth restructure was widely praised by him in the wake of the senior squad’s semi-final appearance in Russia 2018.
However, as the match went on to prove, all the positivity around a side means nothing if game management is not present. And the slick Germans were exemplary at that on the night.
The Germans almost took the lead in the first minute, as Amiri nearly capitalised on a mistake by Dael Fry. That set the tone for the first 45 minutes as the young Germans played positively in England’s final third.
Amiri was the main threat for Germany in the first half. His piercing runs down the left, constantly cutting in, had Walker-Peters chasing shadows. He had numerous half-chances, as did Benjamin Henrichs and Florian Neuhaus.
The Young Lions looked strangely static, especially up front. They mainly tried to play in captain Solanke over the top. A few half-chances between Solanke and Demarai Gray aside, goalkeeper Florian Muller had a relatively comfortable first half.
And that ease translated to the opening goal for Germany. It was so simple – a chipped ball over the top broke the offside trap, and Dahoud collected it on the edge of the box. The Dortmund man took one touch to steady himself and struck it well past Henderson.
Germany went close to scoring again mere moments later. It was Amiri once more, as he cut in and smacked a low shot inches past the post.
Five minutes later, Dahoud came close to a second from a similar position. The Dortmund man received the ball from Henrichs and tried to curl it into the corner with the outside of his foot. Agonisingly for the midfielder, it once again went past the post for a goal kick.
Germany, needless to say, were totally dominant in the first period. They went even closer two minutes later, Waldschmidt striking the ball onto the post after great work again from Amiri. The chance was sandwiched among numerous others for a rapid German attack.
But none of them went in, and Solanke made them pay. The Bournemouth attacker capitalised on a rare defensive error from Germany in the 43rd minute. Foden tried to play in a through ball, but the ball fell to Arne Maier. However, a mix-up with his keeper saw Solanke pick up the ball and tap into the empty net.
It was the last action of the half and one completely against the run of play. The Bournemouth striker, yet to score for his new club, got the biggest cheer when the team sheet was announced. It was fair to say the home crowd enjoyed his scrappy goal.
Kuntz and his Germany team must have rued their luck going into the dressing room. But that is the margins on which football is played, and this youth international was no different.
The goal finally proved a wake-up call of sorts for the Young Lions, as they started the second half much brighter. Dowell went agonisingly close with a freekick on the edge of the box to start off the half, and Harvey Barnes almost curled one into the top corner five minutes later.
Foden, whose industry and running never fails to impress, then had the ground cheering with a vicious effort in the 55th minute. Sadly for the Manchester City man, his low effort fizzed wide of the goal.
It was much more end-to-end in the second half, unlike the total German domination in the first. Left-back Ryan Sessegnon missed an open header from a few yards out in the 64th minute, and moments later Levin Oztunali struck a dipping shot just over the crossbar.
A raft of substitutions from both teams then slightly slowed down the pace of play, as both teams tested out squad players ahead of the Euros. One of them, Ademola Lookman, showed his rustiness with a terribly scuffed effort in the 86th minute.
The match looked to be petering out, but there was a twist in the end. After a series of corners, Henrichs and captain Timo Baumgartl exchanged a one-two and the full-back hung a cross to the far post for Uduokhai. The centre-back had all the time in the world to chest down and smash past Henderson.
But as the young Germans wheeled away to celebrate, England protested. Walker-Peters, who played the goalscorer onside, was down when the goal was scored with an apparent head injury. Usually, this necessitates an automatic stoppage, but either the referee failed to spot the Spurs man or let play continue. Chants of ‘VAR, VAR’ were heard around the Vitality but the goal stood.
It was a heartbreaking ending for England as they lost their 19 match unbeaten run in the worst way possible – at home to the Germans. The Young Lions’ last three defeats have all been to Germany, which will make the result even harder to take for Aidy Boothroyd.
The way his side responded in the second half will give the manager some hope going into the Euros. But on a warm spring’s night on the South Coast, it was the well-drilled Germany U21 team that showed the England youth setup that nothing comes easy.
By Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant)