Hardest game yet
By Nicholas Veevers in Tallinn
Thursday, 12 July, 2012
Noel Blake warns his side of semi-final danger against Greece.
England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake is urging his players to be ready for what he believes will be their 'hardest game of the season' when they take on Greece in the semi-finals of the European Championship on Thursday afternoon.
The Young Lions are one game away from appearing in Sunday's Final and come up against a Greek side who knocked Portugal out at the group stage to join Spain and France as the other semi-finalists in Tallinn.
Having seen Greece's games so far in the Finals, Blake knows that it is going to be a tricky encounter in Estonia's national stadium and said: "I expect a very difficult football match from Greece. They've had two very good encounters against Spain and Portugal in the group games and as I've said many times before, when you get to this level of the competition, there are no easy games or easy nations to play against.
"In many respects, it mirrors the Senior tournament in Poland and Ukraine because at this stage of the competition, the last four, anybody can beat anybody and you've got to be good to get anything from it.
"We've seen the DVDs of them, as I'm sure they've seen us as well, and they're a very good side.
"Every team has their own characteristics and style of play and as we always say to our players, expect the unexpected.
"Sometimes you plan to do one thing and then the opposition can give you another problem to solve.
"Equally, we're confident of what we're about and our approach to the game."
After seeing off a powerful France side with a gritty and disciplined performance on Monday to finish top of Group B, Blake knows his side can improve on their displays in the Finals so far and is hoping that as they've got fitter and sharper, England can grow into the competition.
"We know there are certain things that we have to improve on," he admitted. "We have to improve our final ball in and around the box in certain situations and we'll have to defend well from their crosses, because the Greeks have scored something like 55 per cent of their goals in this tournament from crosses into the box.
"They are a technical and athletic team as well, so we have to compete with them and we'll take it from there.
"But I actually don't think we've played anywhere near as well as we can play so far. I still think we are 25 per cent below our capacity at this time, but equally you have to remember that this is our players' pre-season back at their clubs.
"So it's a big task to come off the back of a break and into a tournament and then ask the lads to be at full throttle.
"All credit to them though, because we're here in the last four and we've played some decent football and got better."