Keane and co. see England through
Posted by nickogs20 on November 1, 2009
United’s Will Keane and his club colleagues Tom Thorpe, Sam Johnstone and Ravel Morrison have all played their part as three wins from three saw England Under-17s cruise through their First Qualifying Round for the 2010 U17 European Championships.
The Reds quartet were all included in John Peacock’s squad for the trip to Azerbaijan, where the Young Lions faced their Azeri hosts, Serbia and Kazakhstan for the right to progress to the Elite Qualifying Round, to take place next spring. A top-two finish in the group would be enough to qualify, but with all first-placed teams being seeded at the elite stage, the incentive was there for England (and indeed their rivals) to take top spot.
Peacock’s side got their campaign underway last Monday against the unfancied Kazakhs in the Azeri capital of Baku, duly roaring into an early 3-0 lead with goals from Everton’s Luke Garbutt and Arsenal’s Benik Afobe sandwiching a strike from our own Will Keane. Smooth sailing from then on you would have thought, but Kazakhstan had other ideas, a quickfire double around the half-hour mark trimming England’s lead to just the one goal at half-time. Any concerns that comeback may have aroused were duly eradicated after the break however as a brace from West Ham’s Robert Hall (on as substitute) and a second goal for Afobe secured a convincing 6-2 victory. Keane, Thorpe and Johnstone all completed the full ninety minutes, but Morrison had to settle for a watching brief from the bench.
Next up just two days later was a clash with the hosts, and when the Young Lions again raced into a 3-0 lead, there was to be no such hint of a comeback. All three first-half goals came from Ipswich Town prodigy Connor Wickham, whose replacement on the hour mark – the predatory Afobe – sealed the win with a fourth goal after 67 minutes. As Peacock shuffled his pack somewhat, it was Johnstone’s turn to endure a game on the bench, while Morrison this time made it on as a half-time replacement for Keane. Thorpe again completed the full game.
With the Azeris having held Serbia to a goalless draw, England had the luxury of going into their final game on Saturday knowing a draw would be enough to secure top spot and a place among the seeds for the Elite Round. The Serbs, a force in recent years at youth international level, had been something of a disappointment, following up that goalless opener by squeaking a narrow 1-0 win over Kazakhstan, and went into the clash with England knowing that a defeat would leave their grip on second place in the group vulnerable.
The Young Lions duly secured victory via a single Afobe goal, and the Serbs were left to thank their English opponents for defeating Azerbaijan so convincingly earlier in the week and thus doing sufficient damage to their goal difference to see Serbia through. Johnstone was restored to the starting lineup while Keane again started before being replaced by Morrison. After starting the first two games, Thorpe sat this one out.
The draw for the Elite Round will take place towards the end of the year, and England will be joined in the hat by the Republic of Ireland, who also won their group, Sean McGinty skippering the Irish side in all three games. Other United participation was limited, but Norway and France progressed without the injured Etzaz Hussain and ineligible Paul Pogba, who will likely come into consideration when the Elite Round matches come around next March.