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England's bad habits resurface as Young Lions tumble out of U21 Euros

Craig Burley also questions the need to win below senior level, asking whether more focus should be put on skill and performance.

Stefan Kuntz was in the dugout and Stuart Pearce was in the TV studio, so England's defeat to Germany on penalties in the Under-21 European Championship semifinal should have come as no surprise to anyone.

Kuntz, now Germany's U21 coach, scored the fifth and final penalty to break English hearts in the semifinal of Euro '96, while Pearce missed in the shootout defeat to West Germany at the same stage of Italia '90.

In Tychy, Nathan Redmond placed his spot-kick too close to German goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck, thus adding his name to the long roll call of English penalty villains and giving Germany a deserved victory following an entertaining 2-2 draw after extra time.

The narrative ahead of this match centred around a summer of hope for England, who had already reached the final of the U17 Euros (losing on penalties to Spain), retained the Toulon Tournament and won a World Cup for the first time since 1966 after the U20s' triumph in South Korea. Before Tuesday, England's youth teams had played 20 matches at tournaments in 2017, winning 17 and drawing two.

This match, against an old enemy, was a chance to prove that things really are different now, that England's DNA had finally changed. Instead, the performance will lead to familiar questions about familiar failings.

England U21England U21
Germany U21Germany U21
(3) 2
(4) 2
FT-Pens
Germany U21 wins 4-3 on Penalty Kicks.
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England were impressive in patches, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, and they showed plenty of character to keep superior opponents at bay for long spells. But as soon as Tammy Abraham gave them the lead on 50 minutes, they reverted to type. For 40 minutes of normal time and 30 minutes of extra time, Aidy Boothroyd's Young Lions dropped deep, inviting Germany to control possession, and resorted to desperate long balls. Old habits die hard.

Kuntz, an animated figure on the touchline, should have been enough of a reminder that playing for penalties against the Germans is not an especially clever tactic and, in the end, both teams got what they deserved after Maximilian Arnold, Max Meyer, Nadiem Amiri and Maximilian Philipp all scored from the spot. Abraham also missed for England.

There are reasons to be optimistic. England's squad has talent and heart, and this defeat was more a result of Boothroyd's tactics than the players' technical deficiencies.

A promising start, in which Nathaniel Chalobah and Demarai Gray should both have scored inside five minutes, soon gave way to a loss of shape and composure, and when Davie Selke put Germany ahead there was a familiar sense of order restored. Selke was left completely unmarked to power a header past £30m-man Jordan Pickford from Jeremy Toljan's cross.

Far from buckle, the goal restored England's impetus and the equaliser came from a source that caused Germany problems all match. James Ward-Prowse's superb set pieces are an example of the technical quality in this squad and the captain had already created chances for Chalobah and Abraham when his corner caused havoc in the box again. Calum Chambers had two efforts blocked but Gray was on hand to volley home left-footed.

Lewis Baker
Nathan Redmond missed a crucial spot-kick that gave Germany the victory in the U21 Euro semifinal.

England tightened up at half-time, playing more narrowly from the start of the second half, and initially Boothroyd looked to have found a route to victory. Within five minutes of the restart, Watford's Will Hughes seized on a loose ball, weaved into the box superbly and squared for Abraham to score.

Thereafter, things went south. Whether it was a result of Boothroyd's orders or unhelpful instinct, England drew into themselves, allowing Germany to seize the impetus. Substitute Felix Platte lost Mason Holgate at the near-post and headed home a brilliant equaliser from a corner. The striker had the ball in the net again 15 minutes later but was ruled offside; replays showed it was marginal.

Poor German finishing, Pickford and a remarkable air-kick from Amiri were all that prevented Germany from wrapping up the victory sooner and England only really rallied again in the second period of extra time, when even their opponents, who had looked fresher throughout despite two days less rest, ran out of energy.

The U19s can still make it a memorable, and potentially watershed, summer for England by winning the U19 European Championship but the familiar result, and familiar manner of defeat, is a reminder that there is still work to do.

Both teams were missing a number of eligible players but Germany outplayed England again, and had the Young Lions triumphed, it would only have masked a poor performance.

The last time England met Germany in this competition they lost 4-0 in the 2009 final against the likes of Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. Those players went on to form the core of the 2014 World Cup winning squad, while England's graduates -- Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, Micah Richards and Co. -- largely failed to fulfil their potential. There is certainly promise and reasons to be optimistic. The challenge is to ensure that one day England can avoid the inevitable.

Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.

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