Gareth Southgate
England U21 coach Gareth Southgate faces questions over his future despite being contracted until 2017.Getty Images

After a qualifying campaign that promised so much, England supporters were left with a familiar sinking feeling on 24 June as a dismal defeat to Italy in Olomouc saw Gareth Southgate's U21 side knocked out at the first stage of the European Championship.

Despite an initially positive start, the Young Lions, who knew before kick-off that a win would definitely see them progress, conceded two goals in as many minutes midway through the first half at Andruv Stadion and simply never recovered.

As it transpired, even a draw would have been enough to seal qualification for the knockout stages due to Sweden's draw with Portugal. Even a point looked totally beyond them, however, with Nathan Redmond's impressive late strike proving nothing more than scant consolation.

It was the third tournament in succession that England's youngsters have faltered in the group stages, hardly the tonic that was required or indeed expected following the debacle that took place under Stuart Pearce in Israel two summers ago and the senior side's poor showing at the 2014 World Cup.

So what exactly went wrong this time around? Could this early exit been avoided, or is it simply symptomatic of where the nation currently stands in terms of its football development in comparison to other, better nations?

IBTimes UK looks at five key talking points from England's latest botched Euro campaign:

Unavailable players/lack of top-flight experience

As is frequently the case with the U21s, much of the scrutiny has once again fallen on the players who were not selected despite being eligible to compete.

Arsenal duo Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool's contract rebel Raheem Sterling, Manchester United defenders Luke Shaw and Phil Jones and Everton's Ross Barkley all could have represented England in the Czech Republic, yet did not form part of the final squad.

While fitness concerns put paid to Shaw's involvement, as well as that of West Brom striker Saido Berahino, the rest appeared to be overlooked presumably as a result of having established themselves in the senior international set-up and as part of a commitment to persevering with the same crop of players that had performed so well in qualifying.

Such absences led to England heading into the competition with a squad largely bereft of regular top-flight experience, certainly in comparison to Italy, who boasted several players that have already made their mark and received plenty of opportunities in Serie A.

Of the 11 picked to start by Southgate last night, Jack Butland, Ben Gibson, Nathaniel Chalobah, Jake Forster-Caskey, Nathan Redmond and Jesse Lingard all played in the Championship last season.

Southgate's desire to foster a certain togetherness is understandable, particularly considering how difficult it must be to continually battle against the inevitable scepticism from club managers and high-profile players.

In the case of Barkley, for example, would he really have benefited more in the long term from a brief cameo in a dire friendly against the Republic of Ireland and a place on the bench for the Euro 2016 qualifier in Slovenia rather than building more precious tournament experience?

Roberto Martinez understandably wanted him to rest given that he also went to the World Cup last year, but let us not forget that the U21 European Championship is only two weeks in duration and, even if you reach the final, includes just five matches.

Harry Kane's decision to participate despite having exerted considerable effort in becoming the Premier League's second-highest goalscorer last term, in addition to travelling to the southern hemisphere for Tottenham's post-season friendlies in Australia and Malaysia, only lends weight to the view that these players should have been selected.

Personnel decisions

While there is surely no question that England would have performed better with the inclusion of the likes of Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Barkley, some of the team selections from Southgate raised more than a few eyebrows.

Although he certainly was not helped by injuries to Berahino, John Stones and Alex Pritchard, there was an obvious lack of consistency – particularly in midfield – that did not help matters.

England started the Portugal game with James Ward-Prowse, Tom Carroll and Chalobah alongside Lingard and Redmond in a flexible midfield five intended to provide the necessary support for Kane, with new Liverpool signing Danny Ings consigned to the substitutes' bench.

Will Hughes was brought into the starting lineup to face Sweden, a move that unfortunately did not pay off. The Derby County man was replaced by Ings at half-time.

Southgate reverted to two strikers for the meeting with Italy, but it was his decision to deploy Forster-Caskey and Chalobah in a midfield two while overlooking the claims of Ward-Prowse and Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek that raised the most questions.

Tactics/a lack of goals

England's passing throughout the tournament was consistently neat and tidy, but it was not nearly threatening enough and frequently did not lead to a quality final ball.

While the wingers tended to drift in and out of the three games, the central players often did a good job in retaining the ball, but they were desperately lacking someone with the desire and initiative to provide those surging runs from deep.

England scored 31 goals and conceded just two in reply as they topped their qualifying group, yet that ruthless streak was notable by its absence in the competition proper.

It is also worth mentioning that England's midfield were utterly outclassed by their Portuguese counterparts in the opening game, although that was largely due to the respective influences of Bernardo Silva and the excellent William Carvalho.

Slack defending

With England struggling to convert possession into meaningful chances and goals, the defensive performances had to be solid. Unfortunately, there were several lapses in concentration throughout the tournament that proved very costly indeed.

Joao Mario's winning goal for Portugal in the Group B opener came as no fewer than six defenders failed to react after Silva had waltzed through and struck the post.

Against Italy, Andrea Belotti was inexplicably allowed to drift beyond the central defenders on his way to opening the scoring after no pressure was applied to Domenico Berardi's cross and Lorenzo Crisetig then found oceans of space in England's half in the build-up to Marco Benassi's first goal.

The Torino midfielder's second was also very avoidable, as he rose highest to head home what was nothing more than a hopeful overhead hook from Marcello Trotta following a throw-in.

Southgate's future

Before the Euros began, pundits such as former colleague Ian Wright discussed the likely possibility that Southgate, whose only previous experience in management came with a three-year stint at Middlesbrough between 2006-09, was being groomed to succeed Roy Hodgson as manager of England.

The latter's current contract is due to expire after the senior European Championships, to be held in France next summer, but the lacklustre performances and disappointing results produced by his team during this competition will lead to debate over whether Southgate is permitted to retain his current role, let alone succeed Hodgson.

"I'm contracted to stay on, I'd like to stay on," he was quoted as saying by BBC Sport after the Italy defeat.

"I think we've had some massive success stories in terms of individuals that have come through the programme."