Kings of Europe
Sunday, 30 May, 2010
England win first-ever European title, beating Spain 2-1 in the Final.
UEFA European U17 Championship
Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz
By Glenn Lavery in Liechtenstein
England have won the UEFA European U17 Championship for the very first time after they came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in an absorbing Final in Liechtenstein.
Gerard gave the Spanish a totally merited 22nd-minute lead when he cut in from the left and fired the ball home, though a deflection off Andre Wisdom had a big part to play in the ball beating Jack Butland at his near post.
The big centre half made amends just eight minutes later when he headed home Josh McEachran’s corner as the Three Lions eventually grew into the game and Connor Wickham’s confident finish just two minutes into the second half gave England their maiden U17 title.
Both Head Coaches kept faith with the sides who started their respective semi-finals and, as a persistent downpour finally made way for a glimmer of sunshine, it was England who got the finale underway on a rain-soaked pitch at the Rheinpark Stadion in Vaduz.
Before the game, England captain Conor Coady said this Final brought together the two best U17 sides in Europe and, keen to observe the latest players to emerge from Spain’s never-ending conveyor belt of talent, the Spanish senior squad were in the crowd to support their youngsters, many of them having played in this Championship over the years.
After a rather slow opening it was Spain’s exciting 16-year-old winger Gerard who treated Fabregas and Xavi et al. to the first attempt at goal, engineering a yard of room inside the box which allowed him to test Butland. The England ‘keeper was equal to it and held on to the ball well at his near post.
Spain came within a whisker of taking a ninth-minute lead when full-back Víctor Álvarez raided down the left flank past Bruno Pilatos. He cut into the box and pulled the ball back for Jorge Ortí who prodded just centimetres beyond the far post. They came close again a few moments later when Gerard skipped down the right and whipped a low centre into the box seeking out his captain, and the tournament’s record top goalscorer, Paco who came within inches of making contact with the ball.
By now Ginés Meléndez’s charges were on top, displaying a brand of penetrative possession football we have become accustomed to from a range of Spanish sides, both youth and senior, but Wickham might have given England the lead when he broke free of the Spanish defence. His shot was powerful and on target and required a smart save by Adrián Ortolá.
A feature of Spain’s play throughout this tournament has been the devastating impact of the front three, with the skill of Gerard, the pace of Jesé Rodríguez and the clinical finishing of Paco terrorising opposition defences and Gerard and Rodríguez linked up well after a loose ball from Ross Barkley, though Butland got down well to save Rodríguez's shot.
On 21 minutes Barkley was again in the thick of the action for all the wrong reasons as he misdirected his clearance, from a Gerard free-kick, towards his own goal though Butland was alert and tipped the ball behind for a corner, via the upright.
However, less than a minute later Spain took a deserved lead and it came from the game’s hitherto outstanding performer. Picking up the ball on the left wing, Gerard found a way past Pilatos, cut into the box and shot goalwards, though the ball did take a decisive nick off Wisdom which sent it beyond Butland's dive.
Strangely, England appeared galvanised after going behind and they were in the ascendency for the remainder of the first half, having overcome a consistent spell of Spanish pressure.
After half-an-hour Wisdom made amends for his part in Spain’s opener by powering home the equaliser from McEachran’s in-swinging corner. The Liverpool centre half rose above everyone in the box to plant his header into the back of the net.
With parity restored England grew in belief and this was expressed in their performance after Wisdom’s goal. McEachran, who had been neat and tidy in possession in the middle found himself in space 25 yards from goal and had a go, the ball spinning just high and wide. Five minutes later Wickham was the next Young Lion to strike at goal. He collected Will Keane’s pass, turned easily on the edge of the box but shot staright at Ortolá.
England began the second half as they had ended the first and just two minutes after the restart they took the lead. Pilatos brought a high ball under control and laid it off to Barkley whose raking left-foot pass picked out Wickham. He exchanged passes with Keane before embarking on a strong run into the box and he found the bottom corner with a sweet strike.
Gerard tried to get Spain back into the contest with a drive from distance but it caused Butland no problems as England began to show the vim and vigour of their earlier games in this competition.
Then Wickham should have put his side into a commanding lead when he latched onto Coady’s clearance. The towering centre forward collected the ball on the right, drove at, and eased past, the covering defender, Israel, but skewed his effort wide with the outside of his right foot when maybe his left, or a pass inside to Benik Afobe, might have been the better option.
It was then Spain’s turn to regain control of this exhilarating showpiece. Substitute Pablo clipped a right-wing cross into the box in search of Paco only to see Butland get to the ball first and punch clear. The ball was worked out to Gerard on the left and he tried a curler into the far post but he couldn’t quite get enough bend on the ball.
A minute later these two were at it again. This time Pablo’s cross was only half-cleared by Butland and the ball landed at Gerard’s feet. The Barcelona winger probably should have scored instead of dragging his shot wide of the post.
Spain had found their feet again and were beginning to piece together moves reminiscent of the first half. Pablo’s introduction had moved Rodriguez in-field and the Real Madrid man forced Butland into an excellent save on the hour mark, the Birmingham ‘keeper palming the ball away from his bottom right-hand corner.
It is often said that any title success requires a little bit of luck along the way and England enjoyed their own slice of good fortune as the game entered its closing stages. Attempting to clear a Spanish free-kick Wisdom thumped the ball against team-mate Luke Garbutt and the duo would have breathed a huge sigh of relief as the ball rebounded off the post and went behind for a corner.
Rob Hall’s 73rd-minute entrance, for Afobe, immediately gave the Young Lions fresh impetus and he almost scored England’s third with his first contribution, only to see Ortolá pull off a confident save.
Central defender Tom Thorpe was brought on in the final minute to shore up the backline and although Wickham should have sealed the win, after being put through by Hall, John Peacock’s young side held firm and when the whistle sounded, there were scenes of English jubilation.
History had been made.
13 Adrián Ortolá, 2 Edu (11 Juan Bernat, 73), 4 Jonás Ramalho, 5 Víctor Álvarez, 6 Sergi Darder, 7 Jesé Rodríguez, 8 José Campaña, 9 Paco (C), 12 Israel, 17 Gerard, 18 Jorge Ortí (15 Pablo, 45)
Substitutes not used 1 Alfonso Herrero, 3 Uxío, 10 Saúl Ñiguez, 14 Cristian Galas, 16 Aitor Castro
Head Coach Ginés Meléndez
13 Jack Butland, 2 Bruno Pilatos, 3 Luke Garbutt, 4 Conor Coady (C), 5 Nathaniel Chalobah, 6 Andre Wisdom, 7 Will Keane (8 George Thorne, 67), 9 Benik Afobe (11 Rob Hall, 73), 15 Josh McEachran (14 Tom Thorpe, 79), 16 Ross Barkley, 17 Connor Wickham
Substitutes not used 1 Sam Johnstone, 10 Saido Berahino, 12 Ben Gibson, 18 Luke Williams
Head Coach John Peacock
Referee Antti Munukka (FIN)
Assistant Referees Angelo Boonman (NED) and Matej Žunič
Fourth Official Stanislav Todorov (BUL)