England Under-21s got their Euro 2023 finals campaign off to the perfect start against the Czech Republic in Georgia. The midfielder Jacob Ramsey broke the deadlock at the start of the second half, with the substitute Emile Smith Rowe adding another in stoppage time to seal victory.
There was a lively start to the Group C opener at the Batumi Arena, with Noni Madueke’s early effort from the edge of the penalty area clip the crossbar while at the other end James Trafford saved from Vasil Kusej.
England, who beat the Czech Republic home and away in qualifying as they topped their group, remained on the front foot, with Anthony Gordon close to converting a cross from Morgan Gibbs-White.
A defensive mix-up when trying to play out from the back against a high press led to a chance for Vaclav Sejk on the right of the England area, but his shot flew into the side netting. There was another major let-off for England in the 18th minute when Kusej was sent racing clear down the right and he charged into the area, only to fire wide as Trafford came out.
England created an opening in the 25th minute when Gordon clipped the ball across the six-yard box and Ramsey’s header dropped on to his boot and wide at the far post. Madueke continued to carry a threat and he cut in from the right to curl a shot just wide.
The Czechs, though, should have taken the lead five minutes before half-time. Sejk surged forward down the left, holding off Taylor Harwood-Bellis before cutting back inside the area and clipping a low drive towards the far corner, which Trafford tipped wide at full stretch.
England took the lead two minutes into the second half when Gordon combined with Ramsey on the edge of the area and the Villa midfielder carried the ball on before coolly slotting home.
The Czechs immediately went on the offensive as Pavel Sulc got clear of Harwood-Bellis, but Trafford was out quickly to smother the danger.
England, who face Israel on Sunday and the reigning champions, Germany, on Wednesday, had the ball in the net again with 20 minutes left, but the goal was disallowed. Gibbs-White blocked a quick free-kick, the ball bounced out to Madueke on the right and his low cross was swept in by Gordon. England’s celebrations were cut short as the referee ruled the goal out and showed Gibbs-White a yellow card for not having retreated 10 yards at the free-kick.
After the let-off, the Czechs pressed for an equaliser and substitute Krystof Danek headed over from Adam Karabec’s floated free-kick. However, Smith Rowe made sure of victory when he slotted in a pass from his fellow substitute Cameron Archer after a break down the left.