England Under-21s secured their place in the Toulon Tournament Final, after a 1-0 victory over Japan made it four out of four in Group B.
Gareth Southgate’s men went into their last group game knowing only a defeat and a remarkable result in the other remaining fixture between Paraguay and Portugal would deny them a spot in Sunday’s showpiece.
But that wasn’t to matter as Lewis Baker’s first-half penalty, his third goal of the competition, was enough to secure the points and a perfect record to take into Sunday’s game with host nation France in Avignon.
Japan U23s 0-1 England U21s
Friday 27 May 2016
Stade Leo Lagrange, Toulon, France
Live on BT Sport
And with Nathaniel Chalobah serving out his suspension and only Ben Chilwell from the initial squad of 20 now missing, Southgate has an almost full choice of players to pick from for the Final
England started like a team playing without any pressure too, controlling possession in the opening stages, before the deadlock was broken from the penalty spot in the 15th minute after John Swift was shoved over by Hiromu Mitsumaru in the box.
Chelsea midfielder Baker stepped up to roll the penalty into the bottom right corner, just beating Japan keeper Kosuke Nakamura’s full-stretch dive.
At the other end, Angus Gunn had to wait until the 26th minute before he had his first save to make, dealing easily with Ado Onaiwu’s low shot from the edge of the area.
With a bit of encouragement, Japan began to cause more problems as the game wore on and after England lost possession on the halfway line, a quick breakaway saw Takumi Minamino flash a shot just over the bar.
But it was almost 2-0 just before half time, when Baker forced Nakamura into a smart save after clipping a shot at goal in the 39th minute.
Japan renewed their pressure after the break and a whipped free-kick by Gakuto Notsuda from the edge of the box clipped the wall and deflected just wide.
And Notsuda came even closer moments later when the ball spun away from a Rob Holding tackle and flew across the area to set him up for a volley, which came crashing back off the bar.
It was then England’s turn to hit the woodwork, as Matt Grimes’ free-kick at the other end bounced back off the bar after he’d expertly lifted it over the wall following a foul on Kasey Palmer.
There was a ripple of late pressure from Japan, as they tried to salvage something from the game but England comfortably held out and will now look forward to the final and potentially a first Toulon title since 1994.
England Under-21s: 13 Angus Gunn (Manchester City); 15 Jack Stephens (Southampton), 18 Robert Holding (Bolton Wanderers), 5 Calum Chambers (Arsenal) (c), 3 Matt Targett (Southampton); 17 John Swift (Chelsea), 16 Matt Grimes (Swansea City), 12 Lewis Baker (Chelsea), 14 Jack Grealish (Aston Villa); 19 Kasey Palmer (Chelsea), 9 Cauley Woodrow (Chelsea)
Substitutes: 10 Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) for Baker 41, 2 Dominic Iorfa (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for Targett 41, 6 Kortney Hause (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for Chambers 54
Substitutes not used: 1 Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), 7 Duncan Watmore (Sunderland), 8 James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), 11 Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Head coach: Gareth Southgate
Goals: Lewis Baker (P) 15
Cautions: Chambers 50
Japan: 12 Kosuke Nakamura; 2 Sai Van Vermeskerken, 5 Naomichi Ueda, 8 Ryota Ohshima (c), 9 Ado Onaiwu, 10 Shinya Yajima, 11 Gakuto Notsuda, 13 Hiromu Mitsumaru, 15 Takuya Kida, 17 Yosuke Ideguchi, 18 Takumi Minamino.
Substitutes: 7 Riki Harakawa for Onaiwu 52, 20 Cayman Togashi for Yajima 59, 19 Daichi Kamada for Notsuda 68, 14 Naoki Maeda for Mitsumaru.
Substitutes not used: 1 Masotoshi Kushibiki
Coach: Makoto Teguramori
Cautions: Ueda 42
Highlights: England U21s 1-0 Japan