Euro win for Young Lions
Friday, 06 July, 2012
Goals from Benik Afobe and Nathan Redmond help England into U20 World Cup.
By Nicholas Veevers in Rakvere
England took a further step towards the semi-final of the European Championship in Estonia, as a hard fought victory over Serbia sees them in a commanding position in Group B going into Monday’s final set of games and also with a place at next summer’s FIFA U20 World Cup secured.
Noel Blake’s side had to withstand a fair amount of pressure during the match, but the defence stood up well and restricted Serbia to largely long-range shots and little action in the danger zone.
Goals from Benik Afobe and Nathan Redmond put them in control though and despite Serbia pulling one back, they comfortably held on in the end to take them into their final group match with France in a promising position with England three points ahead of third-placed Croatia, who meet Serbia in their final game.
After a slow first half in their opening match against Croatia earlier in the week, England made the ideal start this time, as Nathaniel Chalobah and Ross Barkley combined well to pick out Conor Coady on the right in the sixth minute. His centre was fumbled by Serbian goalkeeper Filip Pajovic under pressure from Harry Kane, leaving Afobe with the simple task of swivelling and shooting home from seven yards to give Blake the start he would’ve wanted.
Serbia hit back though and could have been level almost immediately, as England left too much space in behind the defence and when Marko Poletanovic chipped a ball through, the impressive Nikola Ninkovic was clear. He struck well with his left-foot but Sam Johnstone was equal to it, making a good save.
It was England who should have extended their lead in the 15th minute though, as Redmond burst into the Serbian half and played a ball across the defence which was dummied well by Afobe and into the path of Harry Kane. He had just the ‘keeper to beat, but lost his feet at the crucial moment and that allowed Pajovic to collect the ball.
Johnstone was again tested in the 22nd minute, when a corner was only headed out by Luke Garbutt as far as Poletanovic and his well-struck shot from 25 yards forced a fine tip-over from the ‘keeper as Serbia enjoyed their best spell of the game.
Pajovic bettered that just after the half hour mark though, as Garbutt produced a perfect cross from the left for Chalobah, who did everything right in heading powerfully at goal. Somehow, Pajovic got down to it and turned the ball up and wide of the post and keep England at bay again.
Johnstone was worked again, this time by Ninkovic, whose thumping right footer looked to be heading for the top corner but the Manchester United man was equal to it once more.
Serbia were dealt a blow leading up to the break as captain Srdan Mijailovic, recently capped at senior level, limped out of a challenge with Chalobah and was replaced by Ivan Petrovic for the second half.
Fired up by that, and their need to get a goal to stay in the competition, Serbia started the second period strongly but it was England who again came closest to the next goal, as Coady’s cross from the right picked out Afobe and his downward header shaved the post and bounced wide.
The pressure was building on England, but the second goal duly arrived in the 62nd minute as a block from Chalobah on Filip Stojkovic’s power-driver broke for Afobe. He carried the ball into the opposition half before knocking it across to Kane, who continued the forward move before slipping a neat pass to his left for Redmond. The Birmingham City winger did the rest, finishing with aplomb, as his powerful and crisp left-footer flew past Pajovic and into the top corner.
Serbia didn’t lose heart though and less than ten minutes later they reduced the arrears, as a fine challenge from Jack Robinson at the expense of a corner was punished, with Ninkovic quickly taking the flag-kick on the left and curling directly home. A disappointing goal for England and Johnstone to concede and one that gave Serbia more incentive to keep attacking.
If anything though, they tired and with the fresh legs of Saido Berahino and Hallam Hope up front to give their defence something new to think about, it slowed down the pace of their passing and forward running and allowed England to see the game out.