The 2017 UEFA Under-21 European Championships got underway on Friday evening as Sweden were held to a 0-0 draw by England in Kielce.
Jordan Pickford kept his country in it and rescued a point after stopping Linus Wahlqvist‘s late penalty.
Pickford became the world’s third most expensive keeper when he completed his move to Everton from Sunderland on Thursday, and swiftly proved his value.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 13, 2017
England failed to break down the holders, although Tammy Abraham twice went close and Ben Chilwell‘s deflected effort hit the bar.
Pawel Cibicki struck the woodwork for Sweden as, in front of watching Football Association hierarchy – including senior boss Gareth Southgate and technical director Dan Ashworth – England rode their luck.
Group A also includes hosts Poland and Slovakia and, with only the three group winners and best runners-up going through, England must improve.
England did score an early victory before the game when a thunderstorm soaked the Kolporter Arena.
Sweden had not agreed to have the pitch watered as they felt it would give England an advantage, only for their stubborn approach to backfire because of the weather.
And the holders also offered resistance on the pitch as England dominated without finding an early breakthrough.
Sweden held firm against England’s tempo and high pressing line and Abraham lifted an eight-yard volley over after 10 minutes.
The Chelsea striker, who scored 26 goals on loan at Bristol City last season, also bundled his way through only to be thwarted by goalkeeper Anton Cajtoft.
It was a promising start but Sweden began to find their feet and carved out the best chance after 26 minutes.
Cibicki and Gustav Engvall combined on the right to bamboozle Nathaniel Chalobah only for Cibicki to shoot over from six yards.
It was a warning to the Young Lions, who had conceded a record number of goals in European Under-21 Championships – 63 – before kick off.
England were faced with much more of a battle than the first 20 minutes suggested but Jacob Murphy drilled over before Abraham went close a minute before the break.
The 19-year-old forward – four years younger than some of his opponents – looked raw but acrobatically directed a volley over as England ended the half on top.
But Sweden began to exert some more pressure and England were saved by the woodwork after 57 minutes.
Cibicki had been a constant threat and the Malmo forward showed exactly why when he was allowed too much time on the edge of the area to curl a brilliant effort which cracked off the angle of post and bar with Pickford beaten.
Minutes later Lewis Baker shot over from James Ward-Prowse‘s neat corner and Chilwell’s 30-yard deflected effort looped onto the bar.
But England were stretched at the back with substitute Carlos Strandberg causing problems and Mason Holgate executed a brilliant tackle to stop the Club Brugge striker running clean through.
The fact the break came from England’s own corner – after Cajtoft turned Ward-Prowse’s free-kick wide – sounded alarm bells.
And the Young Lions were rescued by Pickford with nine minutes left when he capped a fine personal week with a penalty save after Chilwell clattered into Wahlqvist.
The Leicester defender appeared to get some of the ball but it was a reckless lunge in a needless situation.
But Pickford stood up to Wahlqvist to beat away the IFK Norrkoping defender’s chipped penalty before gathering Strandberg’s follow-up as England survived.
Jordan Pickford’s last 24 hours:
✅ Most expensive British goalkeeper
✅ Saves a penalty for England U21
Not a bad start to the weekend 😎👏 pic.twitter.com/cP4rlVs4aX
— SPORF (@Sporf) June 16, 2017
The hosts Poland were defeated 2-1 by Slovakia in the later game, leaving England’s next game against the hosts on June 22 as a vital encounter.