When England beat Turkey 2-0 in the Euro 2004 qualifier at Sunderland's Stadium
When England beat Turkey 2-0 in the Euro 2004 qualifier at Sunderland's Stadium of Light last month, the strike partnership of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney had more in common than their Merseyside club links...Very few supporters would also fail to make the connection that both strikers first represented the England senior side whilst they were only 16 and 17 years of age; yet this was not their first experience of international football. Both players also hold the distinction of representing the first rung on Club England's developmental ladder - the England Under-16's - before stepping onto the world stage.
Now, during the Easter holidays, whilst many teenagers will still be secretly hoping for a large consignment of Easter eggs to arrive during the next couple of days, the current batch of this country's most promising youngsters are continuing their international football education in baking temperatures in the west of France.
The 31st Montaigu Tournament in France started on Wednesday with eight teams, and John McDermott's young lions were drawn in the same group as hosts France, Russia and the Gabon.
England got off to the perfect start on Wednesday afternoon when they beat Russia 3-0, with a goal from Chelsea's James Smith, and two second half goals from Aston Villa's Shane Paul (pictured), after the young 'Villain' had only entered the fray after 60 minutes.
Paul is currently in good company at Aston Villa, where also in the Midlands clubs' Academy are the brothers Luke and Stefan Moore, who represent England at Under-17 and Under-19 level, both in the centre forward position.
Speaking to TheFA.com, Manager John McDermott expressed his pleasure with his team's performance:
"It is always nice to start off any tournament with a win", said John, "but the performance was extremely accomplished, after a nervous start.
"Our preparation for this tournament has been very good, and the work ethic, and desire to learn from the boys has been first class; therefore the 3-0 victory was just reward."
In total, England had 30 attempts on goal, and only some inspired saves from the young Russian 'keeper kept the scoreline to 3-0.
"Our build-up play was very pleasing", added John, "but if I was being harsh, I could say that our finishing should have been more clinical."
England moved onto a game against the relative unknown quantity of Gabon yesterday evening in Bouffere, and after overcoming an early blow, emerged as 2-0 victors.
After only 16 minutes, Reading's young centre-half Peter Castle was dismissed for a professional foul, leaving McDermott's young lions with only ten men, with three quarters of the game left to play.
"Peter was unfortunate", said John, "but we couldn't quibble with the referee's decision on the sending-off."
After losing possession in the middle of the field, the Africans broke sharply and as Castle attempted to retrieve the ball as the last covering defender, it was deemed that the young 'Royal' had taken man before ball. The resultant re-shuffle did not unsettle England as much as it should, after McDermott revealed that the players had worked on playing with ten men in a training session earlier in the day.
"At international level, referees can sometimes interpret the rules of the game slightly differently than at home, so therefore, dismissals can be more frequent", John told TheFA.com.
The result was impressive, after England then had to deal with the almost immediate withdrawal of Arsenal centre back Kerrea Gibson with a calf-strain. Gibson will be hoping that the number of Arsenal and Tottenham greats to have graduated from his Highams Park School in North London will be a positive omen on his future career at club and international level.
A fraught first half saw the young Lions overcome some physical challenges from the young Africans to maintain their discipline and go in level at the break.
In the second half England started to gain confidence, passing the ball around more comfortably, and with it came two goals that ensured maximum points from the first two games.
The first goal again came from Shane Paul. After a great run down the touchline from Leicester City's Levi Porter, Paul rose highest to nod the ball home to give England the lead.
The second goal was a delightful finish from another young Arsenal starlet, Mitchell Murphy. A mazy run beating two players in the middle of the park saw Murphy then produce a measured chip from all of 30 yards to leave the Gabon 'keeper grasping nothing but air.
England still had to cope with another defensive casualty when Aston Villa's Paul Green - who had converted to centre back from his usual right back position after Castle's dismissal - departed in the closing minutes after requiring four stitches in a head wound, but held on to record a satisfying victory, knowing that the players now have Easter Friday to re-group.
"Tomorrow afternoon our final group game is against France", said John, "but I am confident that our boys will put in a good performance, and expect the game to be tight."
At junior and senior level, 'Les Bleus' have been the team to beat on the international stage in recent years - two young French graduates from Le Havre who starred in the UEFA European Under-16 tournament held in the North-East in 2000 will join Gerard Houllier at Liverpool in the Summer -, but in his current crop of youngsters, John and his Assistant's Nigel Pearson and Martin Thomas are confident that England can get a result.
"Ultimately, these games are all about adding to the experience and education of our players", said John, "but they have shown great character so far."
"Our quality of play has improved, and we will be looking to put on a good performance in front of what will no doubt be the largest crowd we will have played in front of during this tournament", said John.
Log on to TheFA.com tomorrow evening to find out how the England Under-16's fared against hosts France in Montaigu.