Day 1 at the UEFA Under-21 European Championship brought out the pomp & circumstance in Israel as the opening games were played in Netanya where Israel & Norway ended in a dramatic 2-2 draw and in Tel Aviv where Italy outclassed England in a slim 1-0 victory!
And of course The Sports Rabbi was on site for these fantastic events sitting 1st row mid field at the England vs. Italy tilt and every day will bring you, “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly from the U21!”.
So let’s get right to it!
Israel opened their campaign by taking a point from Norway and sit in 2nd place in their group. Alon Turgeman scored a magnificent goal to give Israel a 2-1 lead in a game that they had no business even being in. The crowd of over 10,000 was out in full force behind Israel and you can’t deny the importance of home supporters behind you. Nir Biton slotted home a gift penalty to give the Blue & White a 1-0 lead and Boris Kleyman and his new tattoos must have had voodoo powers on the goal posts & cross bar as they turned out to be his best friend!
Though Israel took a point in game one of the tourney, it was pretty bad to see them choke it up in typical Israel fashion in the 91st minute with a goal by Harmet Singh to gain the draw. Norway badly outplayed Israel and the result was a consolation prize for missing chance after chance, but the Israel defense was exposed time after time.
The Referee. He missed an exciting match, or perhaps he just got caught up in all of the excitement by gifting Israel a penalty in the early going. We can also add that the Netanya Stadium which has had numerous problems with parking and fans entering the stadium suffered the same fate yesterday as well when even at the 30th minute fans were still coming into the stadium. That is unacceptable at a tournament of this magnitude.
The game shaped up as expected with some nice runs by both squads including England’s Jordan Henderson, Italy’s Fabio Borini and Ciro Immobile who kept producing chances throughout the first half for both sides. Marco Verratti of PSG was an absolute maestro in the midfield completing tons of passes and giving Italy opportunity after opportunity. But the best was from Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne when he was given a free kick right outside of the box by embattled French referee Antony Gautier righting a wrong (more to come about Gautier later). Insigne lined up the ball and curled it right over the wall and into the left corner of the goal by a diving Jack Butland. This was a world class strike by a world class #10.
England and Stuart Pearce. The club and manager were outclassed most of the match primarily because they faced a very stiff competition in Italy who was playing with tons of top division regulars. Pearce was unable to make the correct adjustments at half time and was unable to contain Verratti in the midfield who seemed to let England run endless circles looking for the ball which they were not able to find.
The Refs. Seems to be a theme on Day 1. Gautier made costly mistake after mistake, whether it was missing an Italy penalty in the 1st half or a goal by England in the 2nd frame, or the free kick that Insigne scored on, which should have been a penalty, Gautier was considerably Under-21. Hopefully we can see some improvement in this area for the matches to come.
Day 2 will see Russia taking on tournament favorites Spain and a classic clash between Holland & Germany!