A late wonder goal from Ashley Smith-Brown gave England U19s a 3-2 win over Denmark in their opening UEFA elite qualifying match against Denmark.
Sean O’Driscoll’s side fell behind twice, after goals from Marcus Ingvartsen and Robert Skov, but the Young Lions responded through captain Izzy Brown and Demarai Gray as the sides went in level at half-time.
England 3-2 Denmark
UEFA U19s Elite Qualifier
Thursday 26 March 2015
Henry Jeanne Stadium, Bayeux
The second half was less entertaining, save from a frantic final ten minutes in which there was a winning goal and two red cards.
Manchester City right-back Smith-Brown smashed home the decisive goal from 20 yards with his left foot before Jeppe Hansen and Harry Winks were dismissed late on – Winks for a second bookable offence.
England had breezed through the first stage of Euro qualifying in October, easing to victories over Belarus and Luxembourg before defeating Belgium 4-2.
They then comfortably dispatched Italy 3-0 in a friendly in Rotherham a month later, so confidence was high going into this opening elite qualifying round encounter.
However, that confidence was rocked when Denmark took the lead after just six minutes.
Moments earlier, Gray came within inches of reaching Charlie Colkett’s low cross – and the Danes opened the scoring with the very next attack.
England failed to deal with a long throw-in from the left and the ball made its way to the back post where Ingvartsen was on hand to prod home from close-range.
O’Driscoll’s charges did not let that early blow rattle them, however, and they soon regained control of possession, though without testing Denmark keeper Daniel Iversen.
That was until just after the half-hour mark when Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek threaded a ball through to his captain, and Blues club mate, Izzy Brown 20 yards out.
Brown took the ball into the area ignoring the attentions of two defenders, opened the angle and passed a shot beyond Iversen for the equaliser.
And he came within the frame of the goal of giving his side the lead soon after, thumping a 20-yard shot against the crossbar.
Fulham trickster Patrick Roberts then created a chance for Loftus-Cheek with some nimble footwork, only for Stefan Gartenmann to block the shot virtually on the goal line.
But despite being on top, the Young Lions fell behind once more. Denmark enjoyed a brief spell of possession in England’s half, allowing Skov to find a yard of space just outside the box. He broke into the area and struck an angled left-foot shot into the far corner.
However, England came again. Roberts was brought down just outside the right side of the Denmark box. He took the free-kick himself and Demarai Gray was on hand to flick home at the near post, though the ball looked to have hit Magnus Pedersen before entering the net.
There were less chances in a low-key second half and Ingvartsen will be disappointed not to have done better with one of the few Denmark created.
He raced through on goal but was too slow to decide what to do and Joe Gomez and Smith-Brown got back to clear the danger.
Roberts and Loftus-Cheek then combined to tee-up a chance for Colkett, whose volley was straight at Iversen, and Brown headed over from 10 yards as both sides struggled to match the conviction they had showed in the first half.
That was until Smith-Brown picked up the ball on the right-hand side, cut inside 20 yards from goal and unleashed a rocket of a shot that went in off the underside of the crossbar. It was a goal fitting to win any game.
There then followed the two red cards as Hansen and Winks walked, the former for a nasty tackle on Colkett.
England’s second group match is against Azerbaijan on Saturday.
England (4-3-3): 1 Angus Gunn (Manchester City), 2 Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City), 3 Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), 4 Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur), 5 Brendan Galloway (Everton), 6 Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic), 7 Patrick Roberts (Fulham), 8 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), 9 Izzy Brown (C; Chelsea), 10 Charlie Colkett (Chelsea), 11 Demarai Gray (Birmingham City).
Substitutes: 12 Ola Aina (Chelsea) for Roberts 87
Substitutes not used: 13 Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United), 14 Lewis Cook (Leeds United), 15 Bradley Fewster (Middlesbrough), 16 Alex Kiwomya (Chelsea), 17 Aaron Kuhl (Reading), 18 Robert Dickie (Reading).
Goals: Brown 33, Gray 44, Smith-Brown 82
Bookings: Winks 58
Red card: Winks 87
Head coach: Sean O’Driscoll
Denmark: 1 Daniel Iversen, 2 Magnus Pedersen, 3 Stefan Gartenmann, 4 Joachim Anderson (C), 6 Mads Pedersen, 8 Jens Thomasen, 9 Marcus Ingvartsen, 12 Jannik Pohl, 14 Jeppe Hansen, 15 Robert Skov, 17 Rezan Corlu.
Substitutes: 7 Jonas Gemmer for Corlu 58
Substitutes not used: 16 Sebastian John, 5 Marco Lund, 10 Marcus Mathisen, 11 Mikkel Duelund, 18 Casper Olesen
Goals: Ingvartsen 6, Skov 41
Bookings: Corlu 14, Anderson 44, Hansen 67
Red card: Jansen 83
Head coach: Bent Christensen
Referee: Marco Guida (ITA)