Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for today's Under-21 Euro 2017
clash between Slovakia and England! There is very little margin for error due to the set-up of this tournament, which only sees one guaranteed place in the semi-finals in each group, cranking up the importance of each and every game. For England this is a must-win, while victory for Slovakia would put them on the brink of the last four. Before we have a more in-depth look, though, let's first check out some team news...
SLOVAKIA STARTING XI: Chovan; Valijent, Ninaj, Skriniar, Mazan; Rusnak, Bero, Lobotka, Chrien, Mihalik; Zrelak
SLOVAKIA SUBS: Rodak, Jukubech, Huk, Vestenicky, Spalek, Satka, Skovajsa, Haraslin, Safranko, Vavro, Kacer, Benes
ENGLAND STARTING XI: Pickford; Holgate, Chambers, Mawson, Chilwell; Swift, Ward-Prowse, Chalobah, Redmond; Baker; Abraham
ENGLAND SUBS: Gunn, Mitchell, Stephens, Gray, Targett, Murphy, Holding, Hause, Iorfa, Hughes, Grealish, Woodrow
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, Slovakia have perhaps unsurprisingly named an unchanged side from their win over Poland on Friday, which sees Zrelak once again lead the line. Valijent was on the scoresheet in that match, but Safranko - who scored the winner - has not done enough to earn a starting spot for this one. Arguably the standout player in this Slovakia side is Sampdoria centre-back Milan Skriniar, who already has nine senior caps to his name.
England, meanwhile, make one change to the side which drew 0-0 with Sweden as Swift comes in for Murphy, but otherwise Aidy Boothroyd
has kept faith with the team which largely misfired against the holders. Tammy Abraham will be hoping for more to feed off up front having impressed in the Championship for Bristol City last season, while there is plenty of Premier League experience in that team too - most notably £30m goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Southampton attacker Nathan Redmond
Slovakia come into this match in control of Group A as things stand, and another victory for them this afternoon would put them within touching distance of a place in the semi-finals - some feat having been drawn in the same group as the hosts, holders and England. Only one team is guaranteed to reach the semi-finals from each group, with the one remaining spot then going to the best-placed runner-up so should Slovakia win this then they would have one foot in the knockout stages. Indeed, a win coupled with a draw in the later game between Poland and Sweden would guarantee their place in the semis with a game to spare.
Of course, Pavel Hapal
will not be letting his players get ahead of themselves and arguably their two most difficult matches are still to come. Their tournament actually got off to the worst possible start when they fell a goal behind inside the very first minute of their opening game against Poland, but goals from Valijent and Safranko saw them come from behind to pick up a valuable three points, spoiling the hosts' party in the process.
Looking even further back than that win over Poland, Slovakia are in decent form heading into this match. They have lost just one of their last seven outings, winning five of those including each of their last two. The one defeat was a convincing 4-1 loss at the hands of Czech Republic, though, and they weren't exactly convincing on their way to a 2-0 defeat to Germany yesterday.
This is only the second time Slovakia have appeared at the European Championships before, and the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit having previously got their place as hosts in 2000 - when they beat England, incidentally. Slovakia finished top of their qualifying group, beating the likes of Netherlands, Turkey, Belarus and Cyprus along the way.
England were also part of a qualifying group with only four other teams, and they too topped the pile as one of only six unbeaten teams. England dropped just four points along the way and conceded only three goals too - the joint-lowest of any teams in the qualifying stages. Norway, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Bosnia all missed out to the Young Lions in that qualifying group.
This campaign has got off to a rather slow start as England are concerned, with Aidy Boothroyd
's side perhaps a little fortunate to get away with a point from their opening match against holders Sweden. England began the match on top, but they needed Jordan Pickford to pull off a late penalty save while Sweden also hit the crossbar during their 0-0 draw. That result makes today's game pretty much a must-win.
Victory would take England to the top of Group A and put them in control of their own fate once again, but wins are something they have found hard to come by at the Euros in recent years. Indeed, they have managed just one victory throughout the last three tournaments combined, failing to get out of the group stages since their defeat to Germany in the final of the 2009 edition. In their nine matches since that loss, England have won one, drawn two and lost six games in this competition.
Their form has tailed off a little in the run-up to this summer's tournament too, with just one win from their last four outings, having won eight and lost none of their previous 10 before that. Indeed, England have now lost as many games in their last four outings as they had in their previous 16, and a failure to win today would again raise questions of why England seem to perform so poorly when it really matters.
PREDICTION: Right, we're nearing kickoff in Kielce, which means that it is time for a prediction! A draw would be a better result for Slovakia and they may well go into this game looking purely to avoid defeat, but England have no real choice but to go for it and hopefully we will see a good, entertaining game. England were favourites to progress from the group and they should at least offer more of a threat going forward tonight than they did against Sweden, so I'm going for a 2-0 win for the Young Lions!
Right, the players are out, the anthems have been sung and we're almost ready to go here. These two sides have met three times before, with England winning two of those, but their only previous clash at this tournament saw Slovakia emerge victorious with a 2-0 win in 2000.
KICKOFF: We're underway in Kielce!
England have their first attack and it is Swift who is leading the charge, cutting inside onto his right foot but then curling his cross straight into the arms of the keeper.
Slovakia have the greater support inside the stadium this afternoon, with England's players being whistled when they are in position and every Slovakia challenge being cheered to the rafters.
Nothing of any particular note to report in terms of clear goalscoring chances just yet, but both sides have settled into the game quite quickly here. Both have enjoyed a decent amount of the ball and are looking confident in possession so far.
Slovakia are playing with a lot of confidence considering this is only their second appearance on this stage. They have seen the majority of the ball in these opening exchanges, although the onus is more on England to make something happen.
It is a very physical game so far, with neither side shy of putting challenges in. This one could get feisty if the referee doesn't step in soon.
YELLOW CARD! Sure enough, the first card is shown to Bero for a robust challenge on Chalobah - one which the England man was not happy with at all.
Redmond is the latest to be on the end of a painful challenge as Valijent leaves one on him after he had given the ball. No card this time, but Slovakia are certainly letting England know that they are there.
Slovakia have just edged the possession in the opening quarter of an hour here, with 52% of the ball. England haven't really been able to string many good moves together, mainly because Slovakia have been savvy in stopping them early by hook or crook.
Better from England as Redmond darts down the left flank, but he just overruns the ball and it goes behind before he can get the cross in. It is the Young Lions who are just about on top right now.
We're approaching the quarter point of this half now and still neither goalkeeper has really been tested. This Under-21 games have been pretty slow going in the last couple of days, and this one is looking like no exception.
GOAL! Slovakia U21s 1-0 England U21s (Martin Chrien)
First blood goes to Slovakia, and it is a brilliant header from Chrien which gives them the lead! Rusnak clips the corner into he middle and Chrien has made the run to the front post, but the ball arrives a little behind him. Even so, he is able to crank his neck back and send a looping header over Pickford, who maybe could have done a little better. Take nothing away from that header, though.
Well, England were under pressure to attack Slovakia even before that goal, and now they need to do to Slovakia what Slovakia did to hosts Poland in the opening game - come from behind to win. Their European Championship hopes are hanging by a thread.
CLOSE! Almost a quick response from England as a corner is only cleared as far as Baker, who creates space to shoot before firing a 25-yard strike narrowly over the crossbar. That was a lot closer than the keeper seemed to think!
It will be interesting to see how Slovakia approach the rest of this game. It is surely too early for them to sit back and invite pressure onto them, but they are unlikely to take any risks either. As things stand they will be on the brink of the semi-finals.
Slovakia come forward menacingly again until Pickford comes out to claim a ball into the box and bring an end to this attack. This Slovak side contains enough attacking talent to make England wary of going too gung-ho just yet.
England have tested the Slovakia defence with a number of high balls into the box already today - from set pieces, open play and long throws - but the defence have answered every question so far. They have been very solid at the back.
SAVE! More nice football from Slovakia as they come forward with good pace to launch another shot on England's goal. It is Rusnak who lets fly this time, but it is a tame effort which is straight at Pickford.
SHOT! England have struggled to make major inroads in the Slovakia third so far, being limited to long-range shots at best. Swift has a crack from outside the area too and the idea is right, trying to curl it into the top corner, but he puts it a couple of yards wide.
England are seeing far more of the ball now, but Slovakia seem quite content with that considering they have a lead to defend. They are challenging England to break them down, and so far they haven't been able to.
Another England attack comes to nothing as Ward-Prowse's cross finds Abraham in an offside position. It just hasn't happened for England in the final third so far.
SAVE! Even with Slovakia ahead, Pickford is still the busier of the two keepers today. He is called into action again to parry a low drive from distance away from goal.
England have just been too slow in the final third so far today. They have a chance to break quickly here with Slovakia a little out of position, but the pace of their passing allows Slovakia to get back into shape and see the attack out.
SAVE! Chovan is finally called into action as Ward-Prowse lines up a free kick from a good 25 yards out and gets his shot on target, but the Slovakia keeper gets there and pushes it behind for a corner.
HALF TIME: Slovakia U21s 1-0 England U21s
The first half comes to an end, then, and it is Slovakia who have the lead at the halfway stage. England's European Championships campaign is hanging by a thread and they have 45 minutes to essentially save it following another disappointing performance so far. England have seen more of the ball and had more shots, but they have never really looked like scoring.
The only goal of the game so far came midway through the first half when Martin Chrien
scored with a fine header from a corner. The marking left a lot to be desired as Chrien got in front of the defenders and the front post, but he still had a lot to do and somehow managed to loop his header over Pickford and in despite the ball arriving behind him.
Aside from that there really hasn't been too much to shout about in terms of goalscoring chances. Pickford has been the busier of the two keepers, but he hasn't been overly tested and the saves he has made are ones you'd expect him to make. As for England, Baker came closest for them with a long-range drive moments after England had fallen behind, but it took until stoppage time for them to draw the first save from Chovan when he pushed James Ward-Prowse's free kick over the crossbar.
England have little choice but to throw caution to the wind in the second half as defeat - and even a draw - would leave them on their way out of the Euros at the group stages for a fourth tournament in a row. Their final ball has been severely lacking in quality so far, though, so they need to improve significantly in that respect.
KICKOFF: England get us back underway in Kielce, and they have made a change at the interval too with Jacob Murphy coming on for Holgate. That could see England go to a 3-4-3 system.
Interestingly, it looks as though Murphy has just gone to right-back in a straight swap for Holgate, which suggests the Everton man picked up an injury in that first half. Either way, it is an attacking change from Boothroyd.
SAVE! England's best attacking moment of the match comes from Redmond as he collects the ball on the left side of the area before ducking inside and trying to beat Chovan at the near post, but the Slovakia keeper is alert and turns it behind for a corner.
GOAL! Slovakia U21s 1-1 England U21s (Alfie Mawson)
It is not going to win goal of the tournament, but England do finally have their first goal of the competition to level things up! The initial delivery from the corner goes all the way through, but Murphy then collects it on the opposite flank and sends a good cross into the box. Mawson gets something on it but needs a second bite at the cherry to finish from close range after Chovan had failed to adequately deal with the danger.
England can smell some blood here! They come forward again as Baker gets to the byline down the left channel, but his attempted pull back towards Abraham is cut out before it can reach the striker, who would have been left with a tap-in.
SAVE! Another shooting chance for England as Murphy lets fly from range, but his effort is right down the throat of Chovan who makes no mistake.
SHOT! Slovakia respond with a shooting opportunity of their own as the ball is worked to Bero on the edge of the box. He drags his shot comfortably wide of the target, though.
Slovakia have steadied themselves since that good patch for England immediately after the goal. They are seeing more of the ball again and England have surprisingly sat off them a little.
It looked as though England could have Slovakia on the ropes after they equaliser, but this is anyone's game as we approach the hour mark. A draw is a much better result for Slovakia than it is for England, but any dropped points can prove costly in this tournament's format.
GOAL! Slovakia U21s 1-2 England U21s (Nathan Redmond)
England have completed the turnaround, and it is Redmond who puts the Young Lions ahead! Ward-Prowse is the creator with a brilliant early ball forward which suddenly finds England in a three-on-two situation. They only need one of those three, though, with Redmond collecting the pass and cutting inside before firing a deflected effort into the far corner. The deflection did not help Chovan at all, but Redmond will not care one bit.
SHOT! Slovakia immediately go in search of a response and Chrien has a sight of goal to perhaps double his personal tally, but his 25-yard effort goes a long way over the crossbar.
YELLOW CARD! Mazan is the latest player in the book this afternoon for a trip on Murphy.
SLOVAKIA SUBS: Double change from Slovakia and Laszlo Benes and Pavol Safranko replace Zrelak and Chrien.
We're approaching the final 20 minutes now and the onus has switched to Slovakia in terms of attacking now. As things stand, England will be moving to the top of Group A and Slovakia could end the day third depending on what happens in the later game between Poland and Sweden.
It is all about game management for England now. So far they have looked fairly comfortable since going ahead, but the pressure will grow as these last 20 minutes tick by.
Redmond, by the way, has now scored 10 goals for England;s Under-21s, a tally only Alan Shearer, Francis Jeffers and Saido Berahino can beat.
SLOVAKIA SUB: A third and final change for Slovakia sees Luka Haraslin replace Mihalik.
Abraham has been on the end of some rough treatment today and he is writhing in agony on the floor again here following a clash with Ninaj. The replays show that he was caught by the elbow, but it wasn't a swinging one.
After a lengthy stoppage, we're finally back underway. Abraham is up and fine to continue, but the whistles from the crowd continue to pour down.
ENGLAND SUB: England make their second change of the afternoon as Demarai Gray takes the place of Swift.
It has been a rather stop-start period of the game over the last 10 minutes or so, which will suit England just fine. They are eight minutes away from moving top of Group A.
It is Slovakia seeing the vast majority of the ball now, with England sitting off and just protecting this lead. Expect plenty of Slovakian pressure in the final five minutes and more!
YELLOW CARD! Murphy picks up a yellow card for a very cynical foul off the ball, but worse punishment could be coming. Slovakia have a free kick in a dangerous position...
ENGLAND SUB: England make their third and final change as Cauley Woodrow replaces Abraham.
England have four minutes of added time to hang on here!
England have avoided any major scares since taking the lead in this game, which is good game management. It looks like they will be going top of Group A here!
FULL TIME: Slovakia U21s 1-2 England U21s
It was labelled as a must-win game by those inside the England camp, and sure enough win it they have. It was by no means the perfect performance, but the Young Lions were much better in the second half and in the end came from behind to move top of Group A. Mawson and Redmond got the goals, and England could now be just one more win away from their first semi-final appearance since 2009.
Right, that is all we have time for this afternoon! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for today's game as England keep their Euro 2017 hopes alive with a come-from-behind victory over Slovakia in Group A. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for coverage of the day's second game between Poland and Sweden, which will get underway on site in around 15 minutes. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!