Chuba Akpom grabbed a late equaliser as England Under-20s opened their Toulon Tournament campaign with a 3-3 draw in southern France.
The Arsenal forward came on as a substitute to spare the blushes of Aidy Boothroyd’s side, who struggled to impose themselves despite taking the lead, and were reduced to 10 men after Dominic Iorfa’s second-half dismissal.
England U20s 3-3 Morocco
Stade Leo Legrange
Thursday 28 May 2015
Birmingham City winger Demarai Gray had given England the lead, but Morocco scored twice in quick succession, through Ahmet Bencharki and Reda Hajhouj, to take the lead after 12 minutes.
Debutant Duncan Watmore equalised midway through the first half, but the impressive Bencharki grabbed his second to ensure the north Africans led at half-time.
England tried to impose themselves after the break but their enthusiasm got the better of them when Iorfa was dismissed.
Akpom’s introduction added presence to attack, however, and he fired home the equaliser with two minutes remaining.
With a group containing today’s opponents, Ivory Coast, China and Mexico, England had high hopes of finishing top and securing a place in the final.
But Morocco were in no mood to accommodate that ambition – and had plenty of support at Stade Leo Legrange.
They coped better with the bobbly pitch too, even if it was England who took an early lead.
Gray drifted in from the left wing and the forward laid off to Jamie Hanson with the Morocco defence on the turn.
Hanson played the ball right to Watmore, who drove forwards before crossing for Gray to fire home from 12 yards.
Watmore, a Sunderland winger and the son of former FA chief executive Ian, could hardly stay out of the game.
England goalkeeper Christian Walton was adjudged to have handled the ball outside his area, although replays suggest the decision was incorrect, and Reda Hajhouj’s free-kick took a heavy deflection off Watmore and into the net.
Within seconds Morocco were in the lead, winning the ball back from the kick-off and feeding Bencharki to fire home.
Watmore then equalised with a bizarre goal, showing his pace to reach a long ball ahead of the Morocco defence and their goalkeeper, who was rushing wildly off his line.
The Sunderland man’s touch was as much a tackle as a shot, but it dribbled into the empty net.
That should have given England confidence, but the dominance never materialised and they fell behind just before the break, when Bencharki capitalised on a slip from Iorfa to fire high into Walton’s net.
Boothroyd brought on the Brentford left-back Moses Odubajo on for Baily Cargill at half-time, but soon had to reshuffle his defence a second time when Iorfa was dismissed for a second yellow card.
But the introduction of Harrison Reed and Akpom seemed to give 10-man England a shot in the arm and they attacked with freedom as the clock ticked down.
Akpom had already troubled the Morocco defence when, with two minutes remaining, he weaved into the box, composed himself, and then battered the ball into the net.
Alarm bells jangled soon after when Morocco threatened to grab a fourth, but Brighton keeper Walton pulled off a fine save.
The Young Lions are back in action on Saturday, when they take on Ivory Coast
England (4-3-3): 1 Christian Walton (Brighton & Hove Albion; 2 Dominic Iorfa (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 5 Jack Stephens (Southampton), 6 Baily Cargill (Bournemouth), 15 Kortney Hause (Wolverhampton Wanderers); 7 Matty Grimes (Swansea City), 8 Lewis Baker (captain; Chelsea), 18 Jamie Hanson (Derby County); 20 Duncan Watmore (Sunderland), 9 James Wilson (Manchester United), 14 Demarai Gray (Birmingham City).
Substitutes: 3 Moses Odubajo (Brentford) for Cargill ht; 4 Harrison Reed (Southampton) for Hanson; 10 Chuba Akpom (Arsenal) for Watmore 63; 16 Callum Robinson (Aston Villa) for Wilson 73
Subs not used: 13 Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), 4 Harrison Reed (Southampton), 11 Rolando Aarons (Newcastle United), 12 Isaac Hayden (Arsenal), 17 John Swift (Chelsea), 19 Kwame Thomas (Derby County)
Goals: Gray 8, Watmore 24, Akpom 78.
Red card: Iorfa.
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd.
Morocco goals: Hajhouj 13, Bencharki 14, 39.