Wickham brace sends England into Final
Thursday, 27 May, 2010
Connor Wickham scores twice as England beat France 2-1 in Euro semi-final.
Glenn Lavery in Liechtenstein
UEFA European U17 Championship
Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz
By Glenn Lavery in Liechtenstein
England are just 80 minutes away from glory after a pulsating 2-1 defeat of France booked them a place in Sunday’s UEFA European U17 Championship Final.
Connor Wickham was the hero, grabbing a first-half brace, both with his left foot, but Paul Pogba’s 56th-minute header led to a thrilling last half-an-hour at the Rheinpark Stadion in Vaduz, where the French tried, but failed, to find an equalising goal.
John Peacock’s side thoroughly deserved their two-goal lead at the break as they produced a dominant 40-minute performance, but France, sensing the reality of a semi-final exit, really took the game to England after the break and will feel slightly aggrieved not to have taken the game to extra-time at the very least. However, England were not to be breached for a second time and they held on valiantly with a first European trophy since 1993 still very much in sight.
The victors began the game in confident fashion, enjoying a prolonged spell of possession as early as the third minute with Josh McEachran particularly prominent, drifting in from the left to cause problems for Pogba and Eliott Sorin in the heart of the French midfield.
Just before the midway point in the half an injury to Will Keane brought Rob Hall into the fray, fresh from scoring the winning penalty against Turkey, but England should have gone ahead just moments before his introduction. Benik Afobe capitalised on some hesitancy in the French backline and bore down on goal. With only Alphonse Aréola to beat the Arsenal man hit his shot straight at the France ‘keeper, who cleared with his feet.
This chance livened proceedings up somewhat with Barkley coming close to getting his third goal at these Finals although he was initially denied at the near post by Aréola, then both he and Wickham saw rebounds blocked before Hall’s volley was also turned away.
Not to be outdone France eventually came into the game, pushing both full-backs, Samuel Umtiti and Youssouf Sabaly, high up the field with lone frontman Yaya Sanogo causing a threat up top and it was Sanogo who had France’s first effort at goal, his ambitious overhead kick sailing over Jack Butland’s bar.
Then came the breakthrough that England had been threatening. Afobe, who had shrugged off his earlier miss, held the ball up well before slipping it to Wickham on the left-hand side of the box and the Ipswich Town forward found the bottom corner with a low, powerful left-foot strike.
Just three minutes later, though, it took a great stop from Butland to maintain England’s lead when Sanogo collected a long ball from the back and struck a venomous drive from the edge of the area. Although it was quite central it required Butland to get down quickly to his left and repel the effort with a strong wrist. As the French pressure increased, Pogba was the next Frenchman to test the Birmingham stopper with an effort from distance but Butland was behind it all the way and held well.
However, with 40 minutes on the clock Wickham put England in a commanding position going into the break when he latched on to Coady’s well-weighted through ball and found the back of the net with an almost identical finish to his first goal.
At the beginning of the second half it took a goal-line clearance from Hall to prevent Sanogo from halving England’s advantage from an indirect free-kick inside the area, after Butland was adjudged to have picked up a back-pass.
Soon after, Barkley again came close to getting himself on the scoresheet when a driving run from midfield carried him 25 yards from goal where he let fly, forcing Aréola into a fine save.
Guy Ferrier’s side did pull a goal back on 56 minutes through Pogba after his shot forced Butland into the concession of a corner. England cleared the corner but the ball was clipped back in to the far post where Pogba rose above everyone to nod home.
This goal appeared to galvanise France and they began to put the England backline under intense pressure. Anthony Koura came close to equalising when he swivelled to meet the ball just four yards out and headed over, and substitute Dylan Deligny also headed goalwards, but Butland, again, got down smartly to save.
In between these efforts, Wickham sensed his hat-trick when he tore forward from midfield, easing past four French players before calling Aréola into action once more. It was then Sabaly’s turn to dance his way down the right and into the England box, but his left foot lacked composure and he fired harmlessly over the bar.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Peacock sacrificed the guile of McEachran for the solidity of George Thorne in midfield and the West Brom man justified the substitution with some assured touches.
On 75 minutes Abdel Omrani flashed a header across goal which just crept past the far post, and, with just one minute left English hearts were in their mouths as Andre Wisdom scuffed his clearance from barely three yards out and he would have been mightily happy to see the ball come back off the body of Butland.
Despite being asked to defend for the majority of the second half England dug deep, denying the French an equaliser and the Young Lions’ determination and ability to see out the result will please Peacock no end ahead of Sunday’s Final, where they will take on either Spain or Turkey.
13 Jack Butland, 2 Bruno Pilatos, 3 Luke Garbutt, 4 Conor Coady (C), 5 Nathaniel Chalobah, 6 Andre Wisdom, 7 Will Keane (11 Rob Hall, 16 (12 Ben Gibson, 80+1)), 9 Benik Afobe, 15 Josh McEachran (8 George Thorne, 68), 16 Ross Barkley, 17 Connor Wickham
Substitutes not used 1 Sam Johnstone, 10 Saido Berahino, 14 Tom Thorpe, 18 Luke Williams
Head Coach John Peacock
1 Alphonse Aréola, 2 Youssouf Sabaly, 3 Alvin Arrondel, 4 Samuel Umtiti, 6 Paul Pogba, 7 Abdoulaye Doucouré, 9 Yaya Sanogo, 10 Anthony Koura (18 Abdel Omrani, 68) 13 Jérémy Obin (C), 14 Marco Rosenfelder (11 Dylan Deligny, 46), 15 Eliott Sorin
Substitutes not used 16 Maxime Dupé, 5 Wesley Yamnaine, 8 William Le Pogam, 12 Lucas Digne, 17 Vincent La Roux
Head Coach Guy Ferrier
Referee Stanislav Todorov (BUL)
Assistant Referees Matej Žunič (SVN) and Roland Brandner (AUT)
Fourth Official Antti Munukka (FIN)