France rallied from a goal down to beat 10-man England 2-1 and start Group C in style at UEFA Euro U21 on Tuesday. Lille winger Jonathan Ikone scored a late equaliser, before a stoppage-time own goal from Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissakaproved enough for Les Bleus at the Orogel Stadium in Cesena, Italy.
A brilliant individual goal from Manchester City’s Phil Foden put England ahead in the 54th minute, after Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson had saved a Moussa Dembele penalty in the first half.
England went a man down when Leicester City midfield enforcer Hamza Choudhury was dismissed after a VAR check following a late challenge on Jonathan Bamba in the box. Houssem Aouar struck the resulting penalty against the inside of the post.
England went onto the front foot from the start by exploiting pace out wide. Direct passing was putting wingers Demarai Gray and Ryan Sessegnon regularly behind the France defence.
Leicester forward Gray combined well with Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke early on:
The Three Lions were firmly in control thanks to a smart strategy based largely on exploiting Monaco full-back Fode Ballo-Toure. He wasn’t the only one struggling, though, as seen with England’s deft mix of intricate and direct passing:
For all their superiority, the Three Lions nearly went behind when Foden was judged to have handled inside the box. Lyon striker Dembele wasted no time placing the ball on the spot.
Fortunately, Henderson stood tall and rebuffed Dembele’s tentative and telegraphed effort:
Henderson’s stop didn’t deter France from upping the ante. Former Arsenal player Jeff Reine-Adelaide was causing problems with his clever movement from the right channel and into the middle.
England held firm, though, with Henderson again frustrating Dembele, who had found room in the area after a slick exchange of passes.
The breakthrough came nine minutes after the restart when Foden showcased why he’s so highly regarded with a superb solo effort:
France should have been on level terms 10 minutes later when a second penalty was awarded. Choudhury, who had caught the eye with his tenacity, during the first half, was sent off after going in late on Bamba in the box.
VAR helped the referee change his ruling from a booking to a red card.
Dembele’s Lyon teammate Aouar stepped up but crashed his effort off the inside of the post.
France tried to keep the pressure on, but Henderson wasn’t in the mood to be beaten. He leapt high to claw away a fine shot from Ikone.
The latter’s response was to shoot low the next time he drifted infield to wrong-foot Henderson, who didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. Sadly, he was once Wan-Bissaka swung recklessly at a corner to leave Henderson with no chance.
He’s a rumoured target for United, but Wan-Bissaka had endured a night to forget:
By contrast, France had been spared a few blushes after some of the marquee talents failed to click early on. Eventually, though, the class of Reine-Adelaide and Ikone proved the difference, even if England will rue Choudhury’s recklessness.
England face group leaders Romania on Friday, with France and Croatia in action later the same day.