Posted by nickogs20 on October 18, 2008
13 players on duty, U19 qualifiers, U21 play-offs, senior internationals, future call-ups, goalscorers, injury victims – there’s a whole lot of news to catch up on regarding our youngsters on national team duty.
Ukraine 2009 – U19 European Championship First Qualifying Round
Six Reds were in action in October as the qualification competition for the 2009 U19 European Championships got underway across the continent. With England and Northern Ireland drawn in the same group, five of our youngsters were in direct competition – Ben Amos, Danny Drinkwater and Danny Welbeck were included in Brian Eastick’s England squad, while Conor Devlin and Corry Evans were selected by NI coach Steve Beaglehole, the latter as skipper.
Serbia and Albania were the other two teams in the group, which was based in and around Belfast. England played the Albanians first up and there were mixed fortunes for the United lads. Ben Amos had to settle for a bench spot while the two Danny’s started. While Drinkwater starred, scoring the opening goal in a 3-0 victory, Welbeck was forced off after just 18 minutes with a groin injury that was to keep him out of the remainder of the qualifying tournament.
NI meanwhile took on the Serbs, Evans and Devlin both starting. They unfortunately succumbed to a 3-1 victory, instantly giving them a mountain to climb to qualify heading into the crucial clash with England. The two NI lads both started that one as well, but it was Danny Drinkwater’s England that emerged triumphant with a 3-1 victory and secured qualification alongside the Serbs, who also won their first two games.
Those results left NI unable to progress and only pride to play for in their final match against the Albanians. Evans retained his place while Devlin dropped to the bench to allow the backup keeper some time on the field and the host side scrapped their way to a 2-1 victory to avoid the wooden spoon. England’s final game against Serbia saw top spot in the group on the line and was expected to be a close battle, Amos getting an outing in goal and Drinkwater being rested. That close battle didn’t materialise however, with the Serbs producing a terrific display to win 4-1.
So three Reds through, 2 eliminated, what of the sixth and final player involved? For Davide Petrucci to even be involved at the age of 16 (he turned 17 during the mini-tournament) was some feat, the midfielder not only part of the squad but part of the starting eleven for the first two games. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan for the Italians, surprisingly considering they finished runners-up in the 2008 championships.
Italy were grouped with Russia, Latvia and Moldova, the matches taking place in the latter country. The Azzurini could only muster 2-2 draws with the two supposed ‘minnows’ of the group – uefa.com have Petrucci down as scoring the equaliser in the first game against Latvia, although the official site of the Italian FA appears to contradict that. Those two draws left the Italians precariously placed going into the last game against a Russian side who had already qualified. Only a win would secure qualification for Italy, with a draw (or maybe even a defeat) possibly being enough if the Latvia-Moldova clash were to end in stalemate. As it was, Italy slipped to a 1-0 reverse and the Latvians edged their clash, condemning Italy to third place and elimination. Petrucci was dropped to the subs bench for the final game and came on after 35 minutes.
Just to confirm – both Italy and Northern Ireland are out of contention for the two qualification places that go to third-placed teams with the best records against the top two teams in their group (one point for Italy and none for NI of course). Slovakia and Belarus already have better records with a number of groups still to be completed.
Full information on the competition can be found here. The draw for the elite stage is expected to be held in December, and there won’t just be the English contingent at Carrington paying attention – Norway and Portugal have already qualified and the Republic of Ireland are still to play, so Magnus Eikrem, Evandro Brandao and Robbie Brady will be watching with interest as potential call-ups.
Germany 2009 – U17 European Championship First Qualifying Round
Northern Ireland fared no better at Under-17 level, ending with an identical record – 3 points against the group whipping boys (in this case Liechtenstein) but two defeats against the countries who ultimately progressed – Austria and Belgium. United schoolboy John Rory Gorman started all three games and will hope to get another chance in qualifying for the 2010 tournament next year.
Ryan Tunnicliffe and Zeki Fryers are in the England squad for their mini-tournament, Spain, Estonia and Armenia the opposition in Tenerife in late October. We’ll have news of that in due course.
Detailed tournament information can be found here.
Sweden 2009 – U21 European Championship Playoffs
Tom Heaton and Fraizer Campbell retained their places in Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 squad for the crucial two-legged playoff with Wales that would decide which of the two home nations would progress to next summer’s finals. England edged the first game, held at Cardiff’s Ninian Park ground, 3-2 with goals from David Wheater, Adam Johnson and Gabriel Agbonlahor – Campbell replaced the Villa striker for the last 15 minutes while Heaton was an unused substitute.
The second leg was a topsy-turvy affair, the Welsh stunning the Villa Park crowd by coming back from a goal down to take a 2-1 lead. England were able to draw level on the night and just about managed to hold on for a 5-4 aggregate victory and qualification for the finals. Both United lads again started on the bench, Campbell once more replacing Agbonlahor (this time at half-time) and Heaton remaining on the bench.
England join Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Serbia, Spain and the hosts Sweden in the lineup for the finals, with the draw for the group stage set to take place on December 3 in Gothenburg. Campbell especially will be looking to see more action for his loan club Tottenham Hotspur in order to book a place in the final squad, while Danny Simpson might just have a shot at joining his two club-mates in the U21 ranks if he continues his current form with Blackburn.
Full tournament info here.
South Africa 2010 – FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
Mixed fortunes for the two young Reds on senior international duty. Jonny Evans eventually joined up with his Northern Ireland team-mates for their match in Slovenia after initially staying behind due to illness, but was unable to prevent his side slipping to a 2-0 defeat that already leaves qualification for the World Cup looking like a very long shot. What’s more, the 20 year-old picked up a yellow card that ruled him out of the 4-0 win against San Marino four days later.
Darron Gibson had a better time of it. The midfielder wasn’t even initially included in Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad for the Republic of Ireland’s game against Cyprus but forced his way into the reckoning with a fine performance for a ROI ‘developmental’ side in a friendly against Nottingham Forest a few days beforehand. So impressed was Trapattoni that he handed the youngsters a starting place against the Cypriots – his competitive international debut. Ireland laboured somewhat to a 1-0 victory and it’s fair to say Gibson didn’t exactly pull up any trees but the experience will be hugely beneficial.
Victory Shield 2008
England got their defence of the Victory Shield off to a hell of a start with a 6-0 dismantling of Northern Ireland in Ballymena, their biggest winning margin in the competition for 34 years. United schoolboys Ra’vel Morrison and Tom Thorpe both started and impressed, the former especially turning in a terrific display which he capped with the sixth goal in the rout.
Both were left out of the squad for England’s second game – against Wales at the end of the month – although this seems unlikely to be any reflection on their performances, more a case of rotation and giving other players a chance. In that vein, coming into that squad to replace others who dropped out was United U16 keeper Sam Johnstone.