England earn point in Tripoli
Tuesday, 08 September, 2009
Daniel Sturridge's fifth-minute goal secures 1-1 draw in Greece.
Jamie Bradbury in Tripoli
An fifth-minute Daniel Sturridge goal helped England Under-21s secure a point in Greece during a lively encounter that could have gone either way.
Greece levelled just before half-time via the game’s star performer, and that’s the way it stayed meaning Stuart Pearce’s men will return home with four points from their first two UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifiers.
The weather suited England, who arrived at the Asteras Tripolis Stadium under dark clouds and rain, to a flat and very soft pitch.
And they were out of the traps much quicker than their hosts, forcing a corner and a dangerous free-kick inside two minutes. Jack Wilshere, making his first start, was fouled by Greek captain, Vasileios Pliatsikas, a few yards outside the box and Daniel Sturridge was unlucky not to see his powerful, low shot find the back of the net.
Instead it smashed the far upright, rebound out towards James Tomkins, who was the quickest to react. But the West Ham defender couldn’t keep the volley down and it flew over the bar.
They didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal, though. With just five minutes gone Danny Rose showed a clean pair of heels to right-back, Leonidas Argyropoulous, playing on his own turf, before turning Kyriakos Papadopoulos inside out in the area. The Spurs winger squared the ball across the face of goal, in front of the Greece faithful, to where Sturridge was waiting gratefully to turn home.
Greece began to get into the game, with skilful right winger Sotirios Ninos looking to create, and the big No.9, Konstantinos Mitroglou, making his presence felt to Tomkins and Michael Mancienne.
And the Olimpiacos striker looked to have pulled the Greeks level with a fine left-foot strike on the turn 18-yards out. However, as it arrowed low towards the bottom corner of the goal, Scott Loach was down well grabbing it at full stretch with one hand.
Mitroglou then beat the Watford 'keeper to a high ball forward and prodded it towards the goal, but Tomkins was there to casually deal with the situation. Ninos also had a try with his left after cutting in from the right, but his effort missed the far post.
As the rain began to fall again, Sturridge was forced off with an injury. Danny Welbeck replaced him. England then had a couple of good chances through Wilshere; a deft chip that beat ‘keeper Konstantinos Lamprou, but drifted wide, then another from close-range that was saved. Tom Cleverley, on his first start too, also tried his luck with a 20-yard strike, but that too what wide.
Just before the break Greece pulled level and it was that man Ninis. Carrying the ball into space 25-yards from goal, he struck with venom, the ball taking a big deflection off the body of Jack Rodwell, sending Loach the wrong way and rolled across the line.
Greece almost took a 2-1 lead into the break, and would have if it wasn’t for Loach. Ninis delivered a dangerous corner from the left where Dimitrios Siovas rose, unmarked, to head at goal. Loach made himself big, beating the point-blank header away with a strong left arm.
Danny Rose worked a great chance with a couple of minutes gone in the second period, playing a quick one-two with Rodwell into the Greek box, but he sent his first-time shot wide.
Meanwhile, Panathinaikos winger, Ninis, continued where he left off before the turn-around, showing creativity whenever he got the ball, and often looking for Mitroglou. And Mitroglou should have put Greece in front soon after. Beating the offside, he found space one-on-one with Loach in a battle of wits. Loach stood firm, forcing the striker into the shot, saving well with his foot.
Two England substitutes almost linked up to force an opening. Derby’s Miles Addison, on for Rodwell, knocked through to Freddie Sears. He was tightly marked by Siovas, but almost wriggled free to nick the ball. The defender, though, held firm seeing it back to his ‘keeper.
At the other end Loach made another strong save, beating out a vicious Ninis strike after he had lost three defenders and seconds later Mitroglou should have snatched a winner.
A long punt forward from the goalkeeper was misjudged by both Tomkins and Mancienne and the ball bounced through to the striker who faced another showdown with Loach. This time he went round the 'keeper, but from a narrow angle could only find the side-netting. It was his last piece of action and his replacement, Michail Pavlis, barely got a touch in the two minutes of injury time as the game finished all-square.
Referee Mauro Bergonzi (ITA)
Assistant Referees Massimiliano Grilli and Massimiliano Rosi (ITA)
Fourth Official Maurizio Ciampi (ITA)