International roundup (11/12 August): Tošić at the double; Brandy/Cleverley stake claims for U20 World Cup; trio make U21 debuts
Posted by nickogs20 on August 14, 2009
The much-maligned early season international fixtures may frustrate and worry club managers and fans alike, but they do offer a valuable opportunity for a number of young players across the continent and the globe to take the first steps towards establishing themselves in various age-group national teams for the long season ahead. World Cups at senior and youth level, the annual European finals at U19 and U17 level, another round of Euro U21 qualification – it all starts again here, and unsurprisingly there was plenty of United involvement over the past couple of days.
Perhaps the most striking contribution from a United player on the international stage this week (even including established senior internationals) came from Serbia’s Zoran Tošić. Very much a fringe player with the senior squad over the last couple of years, a call-up for last night’s friendly against 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa as part of an injury-hit and somewhat depleted squad offered the 22 year-old an opportunity that it’s fair to say he grasped with both hands.
The first half of the match in Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium was a dour, goalless affair, prompting Serbia coach Javier Clemente to introduce Tošić from the bench at the break, and United’s January signing from Partizan Belgrade had a near-instant impact. Denied what seemed to be a clear penalty less than ten minutes into the half, Tošić picked himself up and minutes later had earned himself a place on the scoresheet, showing great pace and control to latch onto a clever through-ball and surprising strength to hold off Bafana Bafana defender Matthew Booth before firing past goalkeeper Fernandez and into the far corner.
PSV’s Danko Lazović made it 2-0 soon after with a sublime half-volley before Tošić grabbed the limelight again, recieving the ball on the right flank as Serbia counter-attacked, cutting inside before fooling two defenders by cutting back outside again and finishing expertly with his weaker right foot. Don’t want to rely on my fair-to-middling attempts to describe Zoran’s brace? You can see both goals in the video below:
Katlego Mphela bagged a late consolation for South Africa, but it was Serbia’s – and Tošić’s – night. The United wideman will now surely have forced his way firmly into Clemente’s thinking for upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, and the confidence gleaned from his match-winning display can only help as continues to try and establish himself in the first-team at Old Trafford.
Tošić wasn’t the only United player to score two goals for his country this midweek – hell, two other young Reds did so in the same game. England U20s took on their Montenegrin counterparts in a friendly on Tuesday night at West Bromwich Albion’s The Hawthorns, and Brian Eastick’s side included Tom Cleverley and Febian Brandy, the latter a late call-up to replace another Old Trafford youngster, Danny Welbeck. With September’s FIFA U20 World Cup in Egypt looming large, the onus was on those selected by Eastick to make an impression and cement a place in at least the 30-man preliminary squad for that tournament. The United duo have surely done exactly that.
Cleverley, making a long-awaited first appearance for England at any level, had an early chance to make his mark when Mijodrag bizarrely handled a Jenkins cross to gift England a sixth-minute penalty. The United midfielder, wearing 11, stepped up confidently and there wasn’t much wrong with his kick, but keeper Vladan pulled off a terrific save to frustrate the 19 year-old.
That frustration was eased somewhat however when Cleverley’s club colleague opened the scoring less than ten minutes later. Picking the ball up on the right flank, Brandy laid the ball off to Javan Vidal and continued his run inside to latch onto the right-back’s clever reverse ball, before firing through Vladan’s legs from a tight angle.
Both United youngsters were heavily involved as the Young Lions created a host of chances in the first half, but they had to wait until the stroke of half-time to extend their lead. The second goal was well worth waiting for however, left-back Joe Bennett delivering a great low cross into Brandy’s stride that the Mancunian forward met with the most emphatic of volleys.
The second half continued in much the same fashion, and now it was Cleverley’s turn to come to the goalscoring party on the eve of his 20th birthday. Just three minutes after the interval, the Basingstoke-born youngster played a neat one-two on the left with Brandy before coolly slotting past the helpless Vladan. Tom’s second goal seven minutes from time was scored from much the same position, but involved a terrific piece of skill to lose a defender before curling an unstoppable strike into the bottom corner.
The scoring was rounded off by Bolton’s Tope Obadeyi in injury time, with a helping hand from Cleverley, and a 5-0 win was a fair reflection of England’s dominance, something United’s pair of representatives had a big hand in. Extensive highlights of the game can be seen below:
Both Brandy and Cleverley have done pretty much all they can to earn a place in the squad for the prestigious U20 World Cup. With neither in the Sir Alex Ferguson’s immediate first-team plans you would imagine the Reds’ boss will have no qualms with making the pair available for selection (unlike with other international tournaments, clubs can refuse to release players for this one), and after Tuesday’s performance the chances of selection for both players have to be high, but they’ll be left sweating until the squad is announced in a few weeks time.
Others in international action this midweek include a trio of Under-21 debutants. The most high-profile would have to be Kiko Macheda, who was handed both significant praise and a place in the starting XI for Wednesday’s game against Russia in St Petersburg by Azzurini boss Pierluigi Casiraghi. Macheda, still only 17, teamed up with Mario Balotelli and Alberto Paloschi in attack, and created the first goal of the game for the latter, before being withdrawn at half-time – presumably at Sir Alex Ferguson’s request. Italy went on to lose 3-2.
The other two making their first appearance at U21 level were Ollie Norwood with Northern Ireland and Ritchie de Laet with Belgium. Norwood, so impressive with the NI U20s at last month’s Milk Cup, was a half-time substitute for Steve Beaglehole’s side as they took on Portugal in a tough away friendly, and he joined clubmate Corry Evans on the field. The young Ulstermen went down 2-1 to the hosts, but it was another big step for the English-born Norwood, who has almost been fast-tracked since becoming part of the NI setup.
De Laet meanwhile joined that small band of international footballers to make their U21 debut having already been capped at senior level. The young Belgian appeared in two friendlies for his country in May’s Kirin Cup, but that was very much as part of an experimental squad. With the big names restored to the senior setup, de Laet understandably dropped down to U21 level for Tuesday’s friendly with Finland and acquitted himself well in defence, helping his side to keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw.
In addition to Tošić, another pair of young Reds picked up full caps on Wednesday. It was a night to forget for Darron Gibson, who started the Republic of Ireland’s 3-0 home defeat against Australia, but definitely a night to remember for Mame Biram Diouf, United’s recent signing from Molde, who made his senior debut for Senegal in their 2-1 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo.