England sealed their place in the play-off draw with a 2-0 victory over Portugal at Wembley.
UEFA European U21 Championship Group 3 Qualifier
7.45pm, Friday 5 September 2008
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England rounded of an excellent group campaign with a well-earned 2-0 victory over Portugal at Wembley, booking their place in the play-offs for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.Match Officials
A James Milner penalty just before half-time and a second-half goal from Gabriel Agbonlahor ensured the three points were going to England.
Stuart Pearce’s team have taken one step nearer to Sweden next summer, and another impressive performance and clean sheet added to their brilliant run in this campaign and sees them top the table in style.
The players were greeted onto the Wembley pitch by a downpour, something the English players are no doubt very familiar with of late. And they have also been used to winning, with Portugal the only side to take any points off them in qualifying.
And while the rain continued, so did their fine unbeaten record, which, save for the penalty defeat to Holland last summer, stretches back nearly three years.
However, it was the visitors who got into their stride quicker than England and inside five minutes Adelino Freitas had a near post header desperately clawed away by Joe Hart. The Three Lions were keeping the ball well, but with just Gabriel Agbonlahor up front alone, he often found himself free in wide areas, but without support in the box.
The impressive James Milner did force a save from Rui Patricio, but although his drive from 20 yards was crisp, it was routine for the Sporting stopper. Meanwhile, it was Portugal who were having the most joy going forward.
Paulo Machado had a couple of tries, first a curler which deflected off Steven Taylor’s shoulder, but not enough to evade Hart, then a 30 yard striker which beat the Manchester City keeper skidded off the greasy turf and past the post.
England began to up their tempo and impose themselves on the Portuguese. Michael Mancienne came close from Tom Huddlestone’s inswinging free-kick from the left but his header downwards lacked a firm connection and the ball flew into the side netting.
Agbonlahor pace started to cause trouble and he did well to retain possession in the left hand corner, and lay on for Adam Johnson arriving in the area. But his low shot went wide.
Johnson then had another effort, this time it was blocked and a Portuguese managed to scramble away the loose ball for a corner.
But with two minutes left of the first half, a quick break from England reached the penalty area and Agbonlahor squared for Noble on the edge of the box. The West Ham man couldn’t get his shot away and the ball went through to Machado. Fabrice Muamba was steaming in and nicked the ball from his toes on the penalty spot before being pulled down by the St Etienne midfielder. The Italian ref had no hesitation in signalling for the penalty.
James Milner, who had been sticking them away from the same spot in training the day before, tucked the ball into the bottom left corner, sending Patricio the wrong way.
From then on, England were in charge and a largely toothless Portugal rarely troubled Hart. Bolton’s Ricardo Vaz Te came close just after the break, flicking on a floated ball forward from Miguel Veloso, but the ball just went wide of the post and was as close as they came all half.
But England’s pace was asking a lot of questions at the other end. Substitute Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson coming close, with Patricio saving from the Wigan man, and Johnson’s effort rolled wide.
Then Agbonlahor was set free by Noble with a free run at Patricio. He shrugged off the last-gasp challenges, and squeezed under the keeper to seal the win for England.
Fraizer Campbell, who had appeared here for Manchester United in The Community Shield before his loan to Spurs this week, replaced the no doubt tired Agbonlahor with 15 minutes left. He was lively as he held up long balls knocked forward as England played on the counter-attack.
On one occasion, he tried to take on the Portuguese back line on his own, and despite being outnumbered. Losing two markers he unleashed a low left foot strike, but it hit the side of the net.
He almost nodded home a late third from Huddlestone’s inch perfect cross. Patricio blocked the first attempt and was up quick the turn the second away. Then Noble looked certain to score with the last kick of the game, only to see his effort pushed away too.
It mattered to Noble, who would have loved to score at Wembley, but as far as the team was concerned it was job done. Top spot and a place in next month’s play-offs confirmed.
1 Joe Hart, 2 Martin Cranie, 3 Andrew Taylor, 4 Fabrice Muamba (15 Lee Cattermole, 56), 5 Steven Taylor (c), 6 Michael Mancienne, 7 James Milner, 8 Tom Huddlestone, 9 Gabriel Agbonlahor (18 Fraizer Campbell, 76), 10 Mark Noble, 11 Adam Johnson (16 Michael Kightly, 86)
Substitutes 13 Tom Heaton, 12 Jamie O'Hara, 14 Richard Stearman, 17 Aaron Lennon
Coach Stuart Pearce
12 Rui Patrício, 3 Nuno André Coelho, 5 Gonçalo Brandão, 6 Paulo Machado (15 Stélvio Cruz), 7 Vieirinha (18 Daniel Candeias), 8 Manuel Fernandes (c), 10 Miguel Veloso, 13 Vasco Fernandes, 14 Bruno Pereirinha, 16 Bruno Gama (9 João Moreira, 46), 17 Ricardo Vaz Té
Substitutes 1 Ricardo Batista, 2 Hugo Lopes, 4 Daniel Carriço, 11 Helder Barbosa
Coach Rui Caçador
Referee Gianluca Rocchi (ITA)
Assistant Referees Paolo Calcagno (ITA) and Stefano Papi (ITA)
Fourth official Nicola Stefanini (ITA)Kit Colours
England White shirts, Blue shorts, White socks
Portugal Red shirts, Red shorts, Red socksAttendance