Blake targets 'next objective'
Thursday, 31 May, 2012
With qualification secure, U19s Head Coach outlines next target and improvement
By Nicholas Veevers
England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake led his side to the last eight of the European Championship Finals by topping the Elite Qualifying Round on Wednesday night and revealed that now the group’s first objective for the campaign has been achieved, they can move onto the next.
Blake will now take his squad to Estonia for the Finals in July and the chance of qualifying for the U20 World Cup in 2013 and also an opportunity to make history by being the first nation to win the European title at both U17 and U19 level with the same year group of players.
Of course, that’s a long way off at the moment and Blake knows that his side will have to improve once they’re amongst the last eight in July.
“We will take stock on this week and reflect on it,” admitted Blake, after seeing Saido Berahino’s added-time goal seal qualification for the Finals.
“We know we have to improve in our performances if we want to go on and really achieve what we set out to do.
“Our first objective this season was to get to the Finals, which we’ve achieved.
“Now our second objective is to qualify for the World Cup. And then after that, we’ll look at it and see if we can be the first nation to win at U17s and U19s with the same year group.”
England came up against a Swiss side in Preston determined to get a win in order to give themselves a chance of progressing, and on this occasion it was the Young Lions who soaked up the pressure before a classic sucker-punch late break and goal.
“It was a hard game, but as I said to people before the start of the tournament, we knew it would be tough and again it was,” he added.
“Sometimes people look at the so-called ‘minnows of football’ and think that we can turn them over easily. Those days are gone and it was a really tough game.
“Switzerland had to win the game. We didn’t have to win the game, but we obviously wanted to win the game and we had some good chances on the counter attack.
“I think it was almost a reverse of the Montenegro game to a degree, but at times our final ball wasn’t good enough tonight.
“That’s what the game’s about sometimes. You can’t always score in the first minute and if you can win in the last minute, that’s great, so credit to the lads.”
What pleased Blake more than most was the defensive resilience shown by his team. With captain Sam Johnstone proving unbeatable again and protected by the likes of Michael Keane, Eric Dier and Tom Thorpe in front of him, the Head Coach knows he can build upon this.
“We had to dig in and Sam Johnstone made some terrific saves, but we defended very well overall and it was a top performance from our defenders, particularly the centre-backs (Michael Keane and Eric Dier) who have only just come together,” he explained.
“Tommy Thorpe in the middle of the park too, he’s a centre-half normally but has been playing there for his club and looked right at home so there were some really good individual performances.”
However, the win and qualification for the Finals was soured slightly by the injury received by Will Keane in the second half.
The Manchester United forward fell awkwardly in the area and had to be stretchered off, but Blake is hoping that the injury won’t be as serious as first feared.
“The one bad thing for me is Keano going off with his injury,” said Blake. “He is being assessed now and will have a scan on Thursday, so we’ll see how that is and we lost Patrick Bamford in training on Tuesday too which is a disappointment for us.
“When you pick an international squad, you’re borrowing players from the clubs and you like to send them back there healthy.
“Whenever any of our lads go down, I feel hurt for them. It’s very much a family unit in the England squads and when one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting as well.
“So we pray that it’s nothing too severe for Will or Patrick and hopefully it’ll be a speedy recovery.”