Saturday, 29 May, 2010
Head Coach just 80 minutes away from maiden European title.
UEFA European U17 Championship
Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz
By Glenn Lavery in Liechtenstein
As he prepares to lead England into the Final of the UEFA European U17 Championship for the second time in four years, John Peacock applauded the great strides the English game has made in player development, but he said their opponents, Spain, remain the nation at the forefront of international youth football.
Sunday’s showpiece, which is being staged at the Rheinpark Stadion in Vaduz, is a repeat of the 2007 Final which Spain won 1-0 courtesy of an emphatic 48th-minute winner from Barcelona’s Bojan Krkić. This was the first of two successive U17 titles for the Spanish, adding to the six titles they collected when this tournament was in its U16 format. The runners-up spot in 2007 is the closest any England side has come to winning this competition in either guise.
Both nations topped their respective groups with three wins from three and England saw off France in the last four while Spain defeated Turkey 3-1, leaving many purists to suggest that this is a fitting Final between the two best teams in Europe. The quality both sides possess has also led Peacock to predict an entertaining finale.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be in another Final,” he said.
“It was a good game [in 2007] and I’m sure it will be exactly the same tomorrow. I think we are two very good footballing nations. It should be a good spectacle in terms of two footballing teams who will hopefully play very well tomorrow.”
England reached the semi-final of this competition in 2003 and 2004 and eventually made it to the Final in 2007. James Milner, Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon were part of the squad in 2003 while Wayne Rooney starred for the U17s a year earlier in Denmark and all four players have been included in Fabio Capello’s initial 30-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.
Spain, though, have consistently produced title-winning sides at U16 and U17 level and their senior team, the reigning European champions, now bears the fruits of those successes with Iker Casillas (1997), Pepe Reina (1999) and Fernando Torres (2001) among the current World Cup squad to have lifted this trophy over the years. Their focus on youth development is now paying dividends.
“We’ve just published ‘The Future Game’ document in England,” explained Peacock, “which is highlighting the point about the need to play possession football, to have players that are very comfortable in possession of the ball and [who can] play out from the back and through the thirds. We’ve tried to encourage that over the last few years [and] I think we’re getting better at it. The Academies are beginning to develop players now who can play at the highest level.
“But, ultimately, what we’re trying to achieve is players that can go on and become senior international football players and that will be exactly the same for Ginés [Meléndez, the Spain Head Coach]. We think we are achieving that. The Spanish team have done that over the years. We have great respect for the Spanish in terms of what they’ve achieved in youth football over the last seven, nine, ten years. I think they’ve been the benchmark for youth football.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts in Finals and semi-finals on many occasions. One thing that’s eluded us is this [U17] trophy. Hopefully, we’ll be successful this time, but we know we’ve got a very tough team to face tomorrow.”
Peacock also found time to praise the host nation for staging a “first class” tournament.
“Liechtenstein is a very beautiful country,” he said. “Everything’s been fantastic. The hospitality, the quality of the training surfaces, the hotels; everything’s been first class. It’s been a bit like home and that’s helped because all the players have got on well within a friendly environment. I congratulate Liechtenstein for hosting a very, very good event.”
However, despite his admiration for this small principality, the only souvenir Peacock wants to take back to England is the much coveted UEFA European U17 Championship trophy that has so far escaped his clutches. There are only 80 minutes standing between him and a place in English football history.