England U21s draw Portugal, Croatia at Euro 2021

England Under-21s have been drawn with Portugal, Croatia and Switzerland in Group D at next year’s European U21 Championship.

The 2021 tournament will be co-hosted by Hungary and Slovenia, and features 16 teams for the first time.

The Championship will consist of four groups of four teams with the group winners and runners-up all reaching the quarter-finals.

England U21s boss Aidy Boothroyd says he won't be 'flogging' the players in the next two matches
Image:
Aidy Boothroyd will be in charge of England U21s at the 2021 European U21 Championship

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament will be split over two periods with the group stage taking place from March 24-31, while the knockout stages will be held from May 31 with the final in Ljubljana (Slovenia) on June 6.

Players are eligible for the 2021 European U21 Championship if they were born on, or after, 1 January 1998.

Holders Spain, who won the 2019 tournament after beating Germany in the final, are in Group B with co-hosts Slovenia, Czech Republic and Italy.

The tournament will be broadcast in the UK and the Republic of Ireland live on Sky Sports.

2021 European U21 Championship draw in full

Group A: Hungary, Germany, Romania, Netherlands

Group B: Slovenia, Spain, Czech Republic, Italy

Group C: Russia, Iceland, France, Denmark

Group D: Portugal, Croatia, England, Switzerland

England face ‘difficult’ challenge

England U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd admitted after the draw that his side face a difficult challenge having learned their Group D opponents.

“They are very difficult teams, very difficult opponents, but then you look at all the groups and they are all tough,” Boothroyd said. “That’s what we qualified for because we want to play against the best. In order to progress we have to beat the best.

“It’s just been the 36 years [since winning] with two semi-finals and a final in between that.

“The way we have been playing and the way we qualified I have been really pleased with. Now we have to take that to the next stage. We know what we have to do and how far we want to go.”

England met Croatia in Group C at Euro 2019 and drew 3-3 in San Marino.

All of their group games will be held in Slovenia in Koper, Domzale or the capital Ljubljana.

Boothroyd added: “The most important game is the first game, then our second and third. While we can talk about May, if we don’t do our jobs properly and don’t get a bit of luck we won’t be going there anyway.”

‘England places up for grabs’

England won nine of their 10 qualifiers to reach the tournament, drawing once at Andorra, while they sealed top spot in Group Three with a 2-1 victory over Turkey in October.

That match saw Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah become England U21s’ record goalscorer, surpassing Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers (both 13) before then taking his tally to 16 when scoring twice in November’s 5-0 win over Albania.

Eddie Nketiah
Image:
Eddie Nketiah become England U21s’ record goalscorer in October

Nketiah has emerged as a key figure for the U21s, and while their squad has also featured Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, Liverpool’s Curtis Jones and Everton midfielder Tom Davies in recent outings, Boothroyd insisted there is plenty of time for players to convince him they are worthy of a place on the plane.

“Without a shadow of a doubt there’s still a chance for others to make the squad,” he said.

“When you’ve got players as good as we’ve got and players who are fit, on form and playing then there’s every opportunity for them.”

Let’