By Sam Smith and Andrew McSteen
Ebere Eze’s penalty was not enough to send England through to the knockout stages of the U21 European Championships.
The Crystal Palace attacker scored in a 2-1 win over Croatia, but Domagoj Bradarić’s 91st-minute stunner knocked out the Three Lions on goal difference.
England had seven players either born or raised in South London in their squad. Eze, from Greenwich, put them ahead before Curtis Jones made it 2-0. That scoreline would have set up Aidy Boothroyd’s side for a quarter-final tie against Spain on May 31.
They had to overturn a three-goal difference on Croatia and rely on Portugal beating Switzerland. The latter happened and England seemed set to proceed to the summer’s knockout rounds – only for Bradarić to strike from 25 yards in added-time.
It has been a disappointing tournament for England, who finish bottom of Group D because of this result.
Boothroyd told broadcasters: “I thought tonight we were excellent. We have been criticised for not being creative but tonight we were very creative. We scored two and to lose in the manner that we did after swimming the channel and getting to where we’re okay… he (Bradarić) never score a goal like that again.
“It is very disappointing. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb and we almost did it. We lose by one goal and they are the fine margins – the things they have to learn and experience like this stays with you forever. That is what the U21s is all about. It is a development team.
“Football is a strange game and we had injuries to a lot of our normal starters. The lads who came in were exceptional and gave it a real go. I need to think about that and reflect on why that was. It wasn’t through any lack of effort. After a period of time these things become clear. [I’m] very emotional right now.”
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