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Magnificent Micah rises to the occasion

Micah Richards England U21 International June 2009

Micah Richards England U21 International June 2009

Micah Richards produced a brilliant headed winner for lacklustre England Under-21s to snatch an unlikely 2-1 victory in a tense European Championship finals opener in which they played with ten men for almost an hour.

Finland were favourites to triumph in Halmstad once Michael Mancienne's rugby tackle on striker Berat Sadik earned him a red card and presented former Southampton scholar Tim Sparv with a 33rd-minute penalty equaliser.

But City defender Richards, aiming to convince Fabio Capello that he should be recalled to the senior team, sent a clear signal by rising high to power home a superb 53rd-minute effort from James Milner's corner.   

Micah's goal will certainly get full marks from Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce with tougher ties against Spain and Germany to come, but the Blues youngster caused some concern by hobbling off in the final minutes.

He was mobbed by team-mates to celebrate his goal, and Mark Noble - captain in the absence through injury of Nedum Onuoha - said: "Micah came up with a great header. We've not played Barcelona football but it's still three points on the board."

England took the lead against the run of play when Gaby Agbonlahor was able to use his pace and capitalise on a defensive error to cross for Lee Cattermole to sweep in the 15th-minute opener aided by a slight deflection.

The Finns, with good support in the compact Swedish ground, were far from downhearted and their determination was rewarded when Mancienne brought down Bundesliga striker Sadik, who passed him in a desperate chase for a long ball.

Not only did the Chelsea defender cost his side a spot kick - Finland skipper Sparv coolly sent Blues goalkeeper Joe Hart the wrong way - but his dismissal left England to fight on a man down for almost an hour.

Mancienne and Richards would not have been Pearce's first choice as a central partnership but the former City manager decided not to risk Onuoha, who has a slight groin problem but could face the Spanish on Thursday.

Pearce admitted: "We were a million miles away from playing well and we have to improve. But we showed courage, character and commitment. Now we have to couple that character with the ability I know they have."


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