United Youth

Manchester United Reserves & Academy News

Heartbreak for Reds trio as England come up just short

Posted by nickogs20 on August 3, 2009

Just as it was for the now departed Fraizer Campbell earlier in the summer, it was a case of so near and yet so far for United’s England U19 trio Danny Welbeck, Danny Drinkwater and Matt James yesterday after the Young Lions fell at the final hurdle of the UEFA U19 European Championships to the hosts Ukraine.

Of course back in June the suspended Campbell had to watch on as England were taken apart 4-0 in the final of the U21 Euros by Germany. Brian Eastick’s Under-19s weren’t beaten quite so emphatically, but Ukraine ultimately ran out convincing winners, never looking like throwing away the 5th minute lead handed to them by Denys Harmash – much less the 2-0 lead they established early in the second half thanks to Dmytro Korkishko’s superb free-kick.

Welbeck and Drinkwater were handed starting berths for the final, but it was an especially frustrating game for the pair of them. Welbeck, arguably England’s most high profile and gifted player, was marginalised by a 4-5-1 system that starved him of service and left him little to do but harass Ukraine defenders. Arguably the one moment of real quality in attack from the Young Lions was orchestrated by the United striker, his clever ball inside the full-back freeing Joe Bennett to cross for Dan Gosling to strike a goalbound effort that was somewhat fortuitously blocked.

Having appeared to have been nursing a shoulder injury picked up in the semi-final win over France, Welbeck’s substitution just after the hour mark was perhaps no surprise, but it can only have added to the sense of frustration for the 18 year-old Mancunian. He joined Drinkwater on the bench, the Reds midfielder having been replaced ten minutes earlier after struggling to make an impact (along with the rest of the England midfield) and seemingly coming close to losing his cool on a couple of occasions, most notably when picking up a caution.

There was some mitigation for England’s defeat in that they had to play an extra half-hour in their semi-final clash with France, and also in that their opponents were much more advanced in terms of fitness due to the earlier start of the Ukrainian league season, but the unavoidable truth is that the hosts were comfortably the better team on the day, and that England failed to play to their potential when it mattered most.

That will have been all the more disappointing for Eastick and his players as, after an unconvincing start to the tournament, they really seemed to be peaking at the right time. The Young Lions had started off the group stage with draws against Switzerland and Ukraine, James and Welbeck starting both while Drinkwater started the latter and came on as a sub in the opener. James stood out in that game against the Swiss, while Welbeck crucially won a penalty in the 2-2 draw with the hosts.

Danny Drinkwater in England action

Danny Drinkwater in England action

That left England sweating over qualification for the semi-finals, with a win needed in their final group game against Slovenia to progress. As it turned out there was really nothing to be fretting about as they ran out 7-1 winners, a Euro U19 finals record, and Welbeck starred in the first half, playing a part in Henri Lansbury’s opening goal before grabbing two of his own with terrific finishes. As in the previous two games, he was taken off midway through the second half as Eastick sought to protect him from injury, a recent growth spurt having caused a few issues for the forward (including the injury that ruled him out of the Euro U21 finals). Drinkwater and James meanwhile were frustrated onlookers, both having to sit this one out due to injury.

Sadly for James, his injury was one that was to end his tournament at that point, the Bacup-born midfielder being forced to return to Manchester for treatment. The 18 year-old is still a year young for U19 level however and will be desperate to get another chance in next year’s finals. James wasn’t the only United player to have his tournament hopes wrecked by injury of course – goalkeeper Ben Amos had been forced to withdraw from the squad just days before the opening game.

Anyway, the remaining two Reds in the England squad recovered sufficiently to take their place in the starting lineup for what was to be a dramatic semi-final with France, another side who had improved after a shaky start to the tournament. Indeed, it was Les Bleus who made all the early running, Yacine Brahimi instrumental in all their best play and creator of a deserved opening goal for Magaye Gueye after just 8 minutes.

England were in danger of being blown away in that first half, and the United duo struggled to get in the game as England made little headway in an attacking sense. That was until some fairly outrageous good fortune just before the break drew them level. A very harsh freekick was awarded to England right on the edge of the area for handball, and while Drinkwater’s effort with the set piece was poor and cannoned into the wall, Lansbury was on hand to drive home the loose ball from twenty yards and restore parity.

A much more even second half followed, with the decisive moment coming with a little under twenty minutes left when a challenge from Sebastien Corchia on Welbeck brought the young Frenchman a second yellow card. Unfortunately for Welbeck, said challenge came on the back of another hefty clash with France ‘keeper Pillot, and the hobbling United youngster was forced out of the game just as England were poised to seize the advantage.

They ultimately did so, albeit in extra-time, thanks to a well-taken brace from Nathan Delfouneso of Aston Villa, before the French absolutely imploded and incurred two further ridiculous dismissals in the closing stages to leave England playing out time against eight men. While doing so, Drinkwater so nearly bagged himself a goal, his strike crashing against a post with Pillot well beaten. It mattered little though as England ultimately went through comfortably into a final that unfortunately was just a step too far for a weary, depleted squad.

We should also acknowledge at this point the part one other United youngster played in the tournament. Adem Ljajić, the 17 year-old prodigy signed from Partizan Belgrade in January and still plying his club trade in the Serbian capital on loan, was the star man for his national side as they cruised through the group stage, playing a key role in all four of the goals scored by the young Serbs en route to doing so. Sadly, their run came to an end with a below-par showing against the Ukrainians in the other semi-final, but Ljajić’s burgeoning reputation was only added to. He’ll still be eligible for the next two U19 tournaments, but one suspects he will be moving onto bigger and better things in international terms sooner rather than later.

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