Richards rescues Young Lions
England made hard work of grinding out a 2-1 victory over Finland in the opening game of the 2009 European U21 Championship.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 16/06/09 10:21am
England made hard work of grinding out a 2-1 victory over Finland in the opening game of the 2009 European Under 21 Championship.
Lee Cattermole had the Young Lions in front early on, before Tim Sparv equalised from the spot after Michael Mancienne had been given his marching orders.
England prevailed, though, with 10 men as Richards powered home an impressive second-half winner.
Stuart Pearce's side made a lacklustre start to proceedings and struggled to deal with Finland's direct approach.
Berat Sadik was proving to be handful as a lone frontman for the Finns, and he would cause problems throughout the opening 45 minutes.
It was, however, England who opened the scoring on 15 minutes as Gabriel Agbonlahor bustled his way into the box and squared for Cattermole to scuff home.
The Young Lions barely deserved their lead and despite coming into the game after forcing the breakthrough, they conceded shortly after the half-hour mark.
The lively Sadik escaped the attentions of Mancienne and the Chelsea man saw red as his clumsy challenge resulted in a penalty being awarded.
Finland skipper Sparv, who began his career on the books of Southampton alongside Theo Walcott, made no mistake from the spot as he calmly sent Joe Hart the wrong way.
Pearce would have been looking for a positive response from his players after the break, and that is precisely what he got.
England never looked like conceding again throughout the second half and were good value for their 53rd minute winner.
James Milner, who provided reliable delivery all evening, whipped over a corner from the right and Richards' powerful header was guided into the bottom corner past the despairing dives of Finnish defenders.
England will know that they are capable of a lot better, but three points from their opening contest will be regarded as a step in the right direction.
After three finals as a player and one as a coach, Pearce has finally started a tournament with a victory, but it needed his side to dig deep as Finland appeared to have the scent of an upset from the start.
This is the biggest tournament the Finns have qualified for and they provided the majority of the fans at the 7,500-capacity stadium on the west coast of neighbouring Sweden.
Sparv, who was Walcott's house-mate when they were both Saints youngsters, suggested England would be laughing at the clubs Finland's youngsters played for, but the underdogs were deadly serious when play got under way.
There was a swimsuit photoshoot on the beach outside England's hotel on the morning of the game, and Pearce's side were then driven to distraction by Sparv hitting balls over the top and causing indecisiveness.
In fact, it was totally against the run of play when England took the lead in the 15th minute with their first serious attack.
Milner's ball over the top looked simple enough to deal with but Agbonlahor muscled his way past Jonas Portin and cut the ball back for Cattermole to sidefoot home off left-back Jukka Raitala.
It did not dampen the spirit of the Finns and they were level after Mancienne was sent off on the half-hour mark.
Another ball over the top from Sparv caused problems and the Chelsea defender bundled over Sadik, grappling him to the ground.
Either Mancienne or Hart should have dealt with it but it resulted in Sparv sending the Manchester City goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot and sparked manic celebrations where every Finnish outfield player jumped the hoardings and celebrated with fans.
None of them were booked, but Agbonlahor was before the break when he used his arms to jump with Tuomo Turunen.
After a quiet 45 minutes, Walcott was replaced by Fraizer Campbell at the break, with Agbonlahor heading out to the flank.
And England were ahead again eight minutes after the restart. Milner's free-kick had been tipped over the crossbar and it was the Aston Villa midfielder who swung over the corner.
Richards escaped Sparv's attentions and guided his header between the post and Kasper Hamalainen's attempted diving clearance.
The response from Finland coach Markku Kanerva was to bring on Sevilla youngster Pukki Teemu for Jarno Parikka.
Pukki went wide with one effort but the Finns could not make their extra man count, although Jussi Vasara hit the side-netting late on with a header from a corner.
To shore up his midfield, Pearce brought on Jack Rodwell for the last five minutes and Agbonlahor was given a breather, while Richards limped off and James Tomkins came on.
It still needed Hart to get down sharply when Pukki wriggled through for England to seal the win.
|England U21||Team Statistics||Finland U21|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|3||Shots on Target||5|
|3||Shots off Target||9|