Amongst all the hype (or indifference, whatever) surrounding England’s inevitable 0-0 draw with Switzerland this evening, although by the time this hits your screen they may have won a 5-4 thriller, their lesser-known under-21 counterparts eased their way into the playoffs for the European Under 21 Championships in Denmark next year.
Stuart Pearce’s men started the day needing a win over Lithuania, as well as other results going their way, in order to make it to the playoffs as one of the best runners up. And, despite a nervy start, they achieved what was required with an ultimately comfortable 3-0 win.
England missed a host of chances in the first half, and were a little careless at times for a team that needed a win to have any chance of progression. The attacking trio of Danny Rose, Danny Welbeck and Daniel (might as well make it Danny) Sturidge all missed chances: with Rose guilty of a particularly shocking miss after some lovely skill by Sturridge and a deft flick from Welbeck. Hearts’ Arvydas Novikovas looked lively for Lithuania, and was a constant reminder that they were very much still in the game.
Pearce, who surprisingly left Jack Wilshere on the bench, brought the Arsenal midfielder on at half-time, and he changed the game completely. England were suddenly much more fluid, looked more threatening going forward, and Wilshere seemed to bring out the more in the players around him.
This was particularly evident in the first goal: Cleverley made a good surge forward, slipping it through to Wilshere who had made a good run, who played an inch-perfect pass to Welbeck, who finished excellently with the outside of his right foot.
Cleverley was brought off for Aston Villa’s Marc Albrighton, and if I hadn’t already awarded the clichéd “changed the game” accolade to Wilshere, it’d go to Albrighton. He was quick, lively, his crossing was excellent, and he got on the scoresheet as well: knocking in Welbeck’s excellent low cross. And the on-loan Sunderland striker didn’t stop there, getting a stoppage-time goal to put some gloss on the result.
So a dominant performance from England, especially in the second half, gives them qualification for October’s qualifiers. Jack Wilshere was the only player here to have a senior cap to his name: based on some of the performances here, Capello may have to give some serious consideration to capping some of the others.
Frankie Fielding 6 Little to do, fumbled a free kick in the first half
Kyle Walker 6 Struggled a little, off at half time
Ryan Bertrand 7 Solid defensive display
Chris Smalling 6 A little shaky in the first half
Phil Jones 7 Continues to impress
Michael Mancienne 7 Bossed the game from midfield
Jordan Henderson 7 Good game, lovely flick for third goal
Tom Cleverley 6 Fairly quiet
Danny Rose 7 Played some good football, but missed a couple of chances
Daniel Sturridge 8 Missed a few chances, but best player in first half behind Welbeck
Danny Welbeck 8 Two goals and an assist, but should’ve been more
Jack Wilshere (on for Walker, 46) 9 Sparked England into life in second half
Marc Albrighton (on for Cleverley, 64) 8 Excellent in his 30 mins
Jack Cork (on for Sturridge, 78) 6 Little time to make an impact
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