Lewisham’s Nketiah admits England U21s struggled to ‘gel’ as they face disappointing tournament exit

Lewisham’s Eddie Nketiah has conceded that England’s players failed to gel soon enough as the Three Lions look set to exit the U21 European Championships.

Aidy Boothroyd’s side have lost their opening two matches against Switzerland and Portugal. They have done so without having a shot on target from open play despite a vast array of attacking talent.

England must beat Croatia and rely on Portugal beating Switzerland, while also overturning a three-goal swing, to qualify from Group D. They would then play the knockout rounds in the summer.

Nketiah has captained the Three Lions and is one of several South Londoners in the England squad. The Crystal Palace attacker Ebere Eze, from Greenwich, replaced Croydon-born Emile Smith Rowe at half-time in the 2-0 defeat against Portugal on Sunday.

Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fulham twins Steven and Ryan Sessegnon, and goalkeeper Joe Bursik also hail from boroughs south of the River Thames.

Nketiah was asked why things had gone so wrong for England, who had qualified for the tournament with an almost immaculate record of nine wins and a draw. The Arsenal forward – who played grassroots football for Hillyfielders FC in his youth – said: “We haven’t gelled as quickly as we would have liked to, as players. I think we lacked that bit of composure or quality with the final pass.

“There was a lot of moments in transition where we might have turned and got facing [the opposition] and I think that final ball, that final pass [was lacking]. We lacked that detail and care of it. That’s on all of us, you know. We’re all to blame for that.

“We all had sloppy moments in the [Portugal] game and it’s just about cutting that out and playing to the best of our ability. We know we have the quality and we have shown in qualifying that we can score balls, so it’s about producing that here and taking that bit of extra care and detail with the final pass.

“Football doesn’t always go your way. It’s been two games and two probably ‘off games’. They were obviously two different games. Against Switzerland we had a lot more of the ball and probably just lacked that penetration, but here, in the Portugal game, in the transition moments the final pass… we failed to take full advantage of those situations.”


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