Pearce laments early failures
England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce said his team paid the price for their poor start to the European Championship following a heart-breaking exit from the competition against the Czech Republic.
After drawing against Spain and Ukraine in their opening matches, England needed to beat the Czech's to go through to the semi-finals and appeared to be on their way when Danny Welback scored in the 76th minute to give the Young Lions a 1-0 lead.
But Jan Chramosta hit back for the Czechs with just one minute left to play and then Tomas Pekhart scored in added time as England pushed forward to qualify from Group B ahead of Pearce's side.
Although the 2-1 defeat at the Viborg Stadion ultimately denied England a semi-final spot, Pearce said it was their draws against Spain and especially Ukraine which cost them most.
"How we played in the other two games has probably cost us," he said. "We didn't play well against the Ukraine. But it's all good learning."
Despite the manner of England's Group B performances, Pearce insisted his side were good enough to have reached the final.
"We felt if we'd won the game today, the momentum would have carried us on all the way through to the final," he said.
"But credit to the Czechs. They are a good side, strong in qualification, very dogged and difficult to break down. We're disappointed but we have to learn from it."
Pearce also insisted England had been "lumped" with the worst possible draw, pointing out Group A was far easier to qualify from.
"People don't realise the magnitude of the group we were put in," he said. "You've only got to look at the other group.
"A team's come out of that group having lost two matches. That tells you they might have lumped the stronger teams together. But that's tournament football."
Nevertheless, England have looked nothing like the number-one ranked team in Europe during the past week and tonight's game will spell the end of some under-21 careers.
"A percentage of these players won't play again at this level," said Pearce, who is also Fabio Capello's assistant at senior level.
"I will wait until the dust settles to report to Fabio and see how these players came out of this tournament."
England were on course to go through when Welbeck broke the deadlock and Pearce expected his team to keep hold of the lead.
"Once you get your nose in front at that stage of the game, you hope to keep hold of it and see the game out," said Pearce.
"I wouldn't say we gave up. But we probably should have done better at the end. We have to take it on the chin, learn, and go on next season.
"I thought we played particularly well tonight, cut them open on several occasions, got the goal, which was big for us. But we didn't have the doggedness to see out the victory."
Much was made about the withdrawal of key players from Pearce's squad before the tournament, especially Jack Wilshere.
Pearce said: "At the moment, it has no relevance to me. My only concern is 22 people who are hurting in the dress room. We're hurting quite badly but we have to be humble and learn lessons."
Pearce, who has been assured the new two-year contract he has all but signed is still on the table, added: "I will learn the lessons. I will have a good look at it.
"We are the youngest squad here. I have 10 players who were with me today who can roll their sleeves up and go again next time. We have to take that hurt on."
Czech Republic boss Jakub Dovalil admitted his side got out of jail.
"We were a little bit lucky," he said. "Sometimes you make good chances and sometimes you make bad ones. The game was 50-50 in my opinion but we were lucky in the end."