Midfield duo help England to Euro U19 finals
Posted by nickogs20 on June 4, 2009
United midfielders Matt James and Danny Drinkwater have played key roles as England’s U19 side secured qualification for the summer’s U19 European Championships with three wins from three in their Elite Qualifying Round this past week.
Brian Eastick’s squad took on Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia and Scotland in Group 6 of the Elite Round, with the games being held across Yorkshire. First up was a clash with the Bosnians at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium last Wednesday, a tricky tie against an emerging footballing nation, and both James and Drinkwater started in midfield for the Young Lions – a particular impressive feat for the former, as while Drinkwater has been a regular in Eastick’s side over the past year, this was a first call-up for James, the 17 year-old still a year young for the U19s.
As their senior club colleagues ultimately toiled in vain for Champions League glory in Rome, both youngsters played the full ninety minutes as England earned a hard-fought 2-0 victory, the goals coming five minutes from the end of each half via Spurs’ Danny Rose and Newcastle’s imposing forward Nile Ranger, who watchers of United’s reserve side this season will know all about. James was unfortunate not to open the scoring with a looping effort which struck the crossbar.
After that match, and ahead of the Slovakia game, James spoke to thefa.com about the upcoming match and his delight at being called up. Here’s what the Bacup-born midfielder had to say:
“It was a difficult surface to play on against Bosnia, but we believe the pitch at Bradford will suit us better. I think Slovakia will be a lot better technically than Bosnia though, so we will need to be patient and concentrate for the full 90 minutes, try to break them down and get the result we want. We know that a second win will put us in a good position to go on and qualify for the Finals and that is our aim.”
“It’s good for me to be involved, especially to be playing above my age group I’ve been trying to press for a call-up all year so to be in the squad and start the game on Wednesday was a real honour for me and I just want to keep it going.”
The Slovakia game two days later however didn’t prove to be the tougher prospect that the United prospect predicted, the Young Lions running out convincing 4-1 winners at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground thanks to a brace apiece from Ranger and Aston Villa’s Nathan Delfouneso, albeit with Delfouneso’s goals both coming in the last few minutes. Again both the United players started the game, Drinkwater wearing #8 and James #4 (as they did in all games), with the former making way for Spurs’ Dean Parrett with just a couple of minutes remaining, having earlier gone agonisingly close with a brilliant 25 yard freekick.
That win over Slovakia set up an intriguing final game against Scotland, the Auld Enemy having also registered wins against the Bosnians and the Slovaks to sit level atop the standings alongside England. The group decider was to be held at Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United, and ahead of that huge game, Matty James again spoke to thefa.com:
“There’s a bit of rivalry there, it’s going to be on television so it should be a good game with both teams looking to go through. Given the situation, there will be a bit of pressure riding on the game but there are a few of us who have been in pressure situations before and I think we can deal with that. Every team wants to play and beat England, we know that as a country and as a team but if we concentrate we can get a result I’m sure.”
Crucially for England, their goal difference heading into this U19 Battle of Britain on Monday was superior to that of the Scots, meaning that a draw would be enough for them to win the group and qualify for the finals. All the onus was on the team from north of the border to get the win, and this eventually told as – after shading a cagey first-half – they pushed forward in search of a winner in the second 45 and left gaps that England ruthlessly exploited. Goals from Ranger (brilliantly set up by Delfouneso) and Crystal Palace’s Victor Moses gave England a commanding lead, and despite Alex MacDonald pulling one back from the penalty spot after a foul from Arsenal’s Gavin Hoyte, England held on to record the win that secured qualification for July’s finals. Once again, both James and Drinkwater were part of the starting lineup, although Drinkwater was replaced at half-time, again by Parrett.
The Young Lions join Serbia, France, Spain, Turkey and the hosts Ukraine among those already qualified for the tournament, with Groups 2 (Russia, Slovenia, Netherlands and Belarus) and 4 (Ireland, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland) set to be decided over the coming week. James and Drinkwater could conceivably be joined by teammates Danny Welbeck and Ben Amos in the final squad next month, while Adem Ljajić will be Serbia’s key man after playing a huge part in their qualification (more on that to come in the next day or so). We’ll bring you all the squad announcements and tournament info over the course of the summer.