Glenn Lavery in Schaan
Monday, 17 May, 2010
Benik Afobe reveals Young Lions’ hunger for Euro glory.
UEFA European U17 Championship
Tuesday 18 May - Sunday 30 May 2010
Group A France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland
Group B England, Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey
Having avoided the latest spell of chaos caused by the volcanic ash sweeping across British airspace, Benik Afobe and his England U17 team-mates arrived in Liechtenstein early on Sunday afternoon ready to embark on a history-making mission.
John Peacock’s latest band of talented youngsters travelled to the principality to compete in the UEFA European U17 Championship Finals and, ahead of their first Group B match, against Czech Republic on Tuesday, Afobe revealed the Young Lions’ collective desire to become the first England team to triumph in the competition.
“We’ve been playing for this for the whole season,” said Afobe, of their upcoming assault on the Euros. “Amongst the group we’ve been talking about, hopefully, being the first England team to win this tournament. It would mean a lot to all the boys. We’re up for it. We want to bring some silverware home to England before the World Cup.”
Now, this might simply sound like the excited folly of youth, but, with six wins from six matches Peacock’s charges boast the best qualifying record of all eight Finalists and, in Afobe, Sam Johnstone and Luke Garbutt they also have three players with previous experience of these Finals, as they all featured in Germany last year, so it would be unwise to completely dismiss his comments.
Afobe attributes England’s success in reaching this stage of the competition to the camaraderie and team spirit evident throughout the squad and he now wants this comradeship to propel them to further glory over the next couple of weeks.
“The team spirit has to be good off the pitch for it to be good on the pitch and we’ve always had a good spirit as a group,” he explained. “I think that all came about from our first game [at U16 level, last season] when we beat Northern Ireland 6-0. That sort of set it all off, because we started off so well together. In this team, everyone gets on with each other and there aren’t any little groups. We all keep in contact even when we’re not with England.
“We won all our qualifiers and we didn’t concede that many goals. Now we want to test ourselves against the best and I know all the boys are looking forward to it. We all get on really well and I think that helps with our confidence. We are a confident team - not too confident - but we work hard for each other as well.”
The young forward has certainly done his bit for the team in qualifying, plundering six goals to put himself fourth on the tournament’s goalscoring chart, and he sent out an ominous warning to England’s three group opponents, Czech Republic, Turkey and Greece: “Obviously, it’s always better to see the team win but as a striker you always want to score. To score six is good but hopefully I can add to that this week.”
Born in 1993, Afobe is very much still learning his trade. He says last year’s Finals taught him the importance of rest in between matches and he is still learning how to adapt properly to the international game. But, with potentially just five matches standing between these young players and their own piece of history, the 17-year-old underlines their focus ahead of the big kick-off.
“We are still getting to know how each other play. When we meet up with England we’ve only got about a week to get our game going but I think we adapt well and we’ve done that again this time.
“We know we’re here to do a job and that’s all we’ll be thinking about when we get on the pitch.”
Shortly before leaving England Peacock was forced into making one squad change with the injured Jake Bidwell being replaced by Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson.
You can follow the U17s’ European campaign right here on TheFA.com as we will bring you previews before every game, in-depth coverage of each of England’s matches and all the post-match reaction from inside the camp.