England U21s sunk by old flaws as Portugal expose gulf in class
European Under-21 Championship campaign gets off to a disappointing start as England lose
England 0 Portugal 1
England endured a "familiar disappointing start" to their European Under-21 Championship challenge as they were beaten by Portugal in their opening fixture.
The goal came from Joao Mario just before the hour and, despite bullish predictions about England's chances in the run-up to the tournament, The Guardian says that "at times it was clear that some of Portugal's number had played in the Champions League last season whereas some of England's had played in the Championship".
England were unbeaten in qualification but suffered two blows prior to the opening game with West Brom striker Saido Berahino ruled out of the competition with a knee problem, and Everton defender John Stones forced to sit out the first two games after suffering a concussion in training.
But it was not all doom and gloom, says the paper, as England "showed enough to suggest that their pre-tournament optimism was not entirely misplaced", adds The Guardian.
There is no shame in losing to Portugal, suggests The Times. "Premier League scouts will not have been surprised at last night's outcome. Portugal has long been a hotbed of football talent... and many of the stars of their under-21 side are already well known."
It singles out William Carvalho, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder consistently linked with Arsenal, Bernado Silva of AS Monaco and Porto winger Ricardo Pereira for special mentions.
Portugal were "slick" says Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph, while England suffered from their usual problems.
"The football is more fluid and entertaining than in the Stuart Pearce era but flaws remain," he says. "Defensive errors, ranging from concentration to positioning, afflict England at assorted age-group levels."
In attack, England's "flashes of excellence were never sustained", adds Winter. "It was all a contrast to the intelligent possession football of the Portuguese."