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Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 19:10 UK

England U21s 2-1 Finland U21s

By Paul Fletcher

Micah Richards celebrates scoring for England
Richards scored the winner with a brutal second-half header

England began their European Under-21 Championship campaign with an unconvincing win over Finland.

Lee Cattermole's early deflected strike put Stuart Pearce's team ahead in Sweden.

But Michael Mancienne was sent-off after hauling down Berat Sadek and Tim Sparv equalised from the penalty spot.

A brilliant Micah Richards header from a rare England corner after the break sealed victory, although Jussi Vasara and Teemu Pukki both almost equalised.

It was the opening game of the tournament and one that Pearce was extremely keen to see his team win ahead of their potentially tougher Group B games against Spain and Germany.

"Did we play well enough to trouble the tournament? No"

Stuart Pearce

But it was a patchy and disjointed performance from England, who struggled to retain possession and arguably did well to win after playing for an hour with 10 men.

"I think we showed courage," said Pearce. "Did we play well enough to trouble the tournament? No. But they have lots of character and we have to couple that with our ability."

England, skippered by Mark Noble in the absence of the injured Nedum Onuoha, started nervously and were undoubtedly second best throughout a first half that saw them reduced to 10 men after Mancienne's 31st-minute dismissal.

Finland, in stark contrast, were superbly organised and physically imposing. They refused to let their opponents settle - restricting the impact of players such as Theo Walcott - and regularly unsettled England's back line.

Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs, who otherwise had an impressive match, was lucky not to concede a penalty when he appeared to trip Sadek.

And it was undoubtedly against the run of play when Cattermole struck after 15 minutes.

Gabriel Agbonlahor collected a long ball down the left channel and burst past Jonas Portin before cutting the ball back into the path of the Wigan midfielder whose effort was helped in by Jukka Raitala.

England appeared to have weathered an early storm and Agbonlahor almost connected with a through-ball from James Milner but Mancienne's terrible error led to Finland's equaliser.

The Chelsea defender was goal-side as a long ball came over the top but instead of clearing the danger he hesitated, presumably waiting for keeper Joe Hart to come out of goal to collect the ball.

1960 bear

Sadek managed to run beyond Mancienne, who crudely bungled his opponent to the floor and rightly saw red for the first time in his career before Sparv, a former Southampton trainee, calmly slotted the ball beyond Hart to equalise.

Pearce's team managed to get to the break on level terms but not before Perparim Hetemaj danced through the England defence only to shoot wide.

The ineffectual Walcott was replaced by Fraizer Campbell but it had no immediate effect as Finland continued to press and Martin Cranie had to make a brilliant defensive header to cut out a Hetemaj cross with Sadik lurking.

And it was another goal against the run of play that saw Pearce's team restore their lead. Anssi Jaakkola tipped over a decent free-kick from Milner and Richards, who limped off late on, struck from the subsequent corner, directing his powerful header back across goal and into the net.

Vasara headed wide late on, while Pukki saw a shot saved from Hart, who later smothered at the feet of the same player as England, who play Spain on Thursday, held on to their advantage.

England U21: Hart, Cranie, Richards, Mancienne, Gibbs, Muamba, Cattermole, Noble, Milner, Agbonlahor, Walcott.
Subs: Lewis, Tomkins, Taylor, Stearman, Onuoha, Gardner, Johnson, Rodwell, Driver, Rose, Campbell, Loach.

Finland U21: Jaakkola, Aho, Portin, Turunen, Raitala, Hamalainen, Mehmet Hetemaj, Sparv, Perparim Hetemaj, Parikka, Sadik.
Subs: Masalin, Viljanen, Toivio, Jalasto, Otaru, Karkkainen, Aijala, Hakola, Vasara, Pukki, Kokko, Lehtovaara.

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see also
England U21 7-0 Azerbaijan U21
08 Jun 09 |  Internationals
England Under-21s hit by injuries
01 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Pearce stands defiant on Walcott
09 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Wenger fear over Walcott workload
25 May 09 |  Arsenal
Walcott ruled out after surgery
20 Nov 08 |  Arsenal
Pearce proud despite U21 defeat
20 Jun 07 |  Internationals
Holland U21 1-1 Eng U21 (aet)
20 Jun 07 |  Internationals

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