VIDEO: U19s reach European Championship
Wednesday, 30 May, 2012
Saido Berahino bags late winner to send England to Euro Finals
By Nicholas Veevers in Preston
England U19s secured their qualification for this year’s European Championship Finals courtesy of a late Saido Berahino strike at Deepdale, but the Young Lions were made to work hard for their progress.
It wasn’t as fluent a performance from England as Head Coach Noel Blake would’ve wanted from his team, but after facing a spirited and talented Switzerland side also still in with a shout of qualification, the end result was what counted and Blake’s squad will now head to the Finals in Estonia in July.
With England going into the game on top of the group and Montenegro level on points behind them, eyes were always going to be on their game with Slovenia at Spotland and kick-off was even delayed by 15 minutes due to a delay in Rochdale but as the action unfolded there was a further twist as Slovenia took a late lead against the Montenegrins.
That meant a point for England would be good enough but it also gave Switzerland a chance to qualify themselves, if they could find a winner. So with the Swiss committing more and more to attack in the late stages, that allowed the Young Lions to engineer a counter attack and win it through Berahino’s added-time goal.
It was a largely equal first half, but the visitors looked the more dangerous in front of goal and Sam Johnstone was forced into the first save of the match after 16 minutes, when a free-kick from 25-yards from Joel Geissmann looked to be heading goalwards, but the England skipper did well to tip over the bar at full stretch.
England had to be thankful to Johnstone again five minutes later, when his splendid triple save denied Michael Frey twice and then Hekuran Kryeziou, after Switzerland twice exploited space on their right flank.
There were flashes of what the Young Lions could offer, but as was the case in the last game with Montenegro, the penetration radar wasn’t quite finding its range, with the final ball often proving the let down.
Frey had another opportunity to open the deadlock after 35 minutes when Todd Kane didn’t quite see the ball out on the by-line and allowed Mike Kleiber to lift a cross back into the box only for the big striker to shoot wastefully over.
England responded and came close five minutes before the break when Eric Dier’s purposeful run forward and pass saw Harry Kane get a shooting opportunity, only to see his low strike diverted narrowly wide of the post as the teams went in at the break all level.
Swiss ‘keeper Yannick Brecher was then forced into his first meaningful save minutes after the re-start when Harry Kane drilled a low shot from 25 yards across the slippy surface. Brecher couldn’t hold the first effort but recovered just in time to gather in front of Benik Afobe.
Kane then tested Brecher again, with a free-kick from distance after Afobe had been fouled but once the shot had gone around the wall, Brecher was in a good position to make a straightforward save.
There was still danger at the other end though, particularly through the pacy Salim Khelifi, who latched onto a long ball over the top and sent a shot narrowly wide of the far post.
England were dealt a blow on the hour mark though, as Will Keane went down in the area in agony after collecting a pass from Lundstram. He was stretchered off eventually, with Saido Berahino replacing him up front. The Manchester United man didn’t need hospital treatment in the end, but will undergo a scan on Thursday to assess the injury.
That departure certainly injected even more steel into England’s defending and Keane’s Manchester United team-mate Tom Thorpe kept England in it with just less than 20 minutes to go, as his brave and equally stunning block on Frey’s close range effort kept the Swiss out again.
With news filtering through to Deepdale by this stage that Slovenia had taken the lead over Montenegro, the Swiss bench also got the message onto the pitch that a win for them would be enough to take them through whilst a draw would be enough for England so a tense finale was ensured.
If anything, it was England who came closest in the later stages though, as Ross Barkley embarked on a jinking run across the area before gradually finding enough space to wrap his left foot around the ball and send a low shot inches wide of the post.
With five minutes of stoppage time, the game was anyone’s and the drama was complete in the 94th minute, as with the Swiss pushing for a winner, England clinically hit them on the break. Barkley picked the ball up on the halfway line and after drawing two defenders in, he slipped a pass to his left for Berahino and the West Bromwich Albion striker struck a low left-footer past Brecher and inside the far post to send England through to the Finals and the last eight of the competition.
They did it the hard way and Blake will be under no illusions that his charges will need to find some extra form in the Finals, but with a chance for this year group to now make history by becoming the first team to win the Euros at U17 and U19 level, England will head east to Tallin in July in determined mood.