Wednesday, 22 March 2017

22/03/17 Review: England U19 vs Norway U19

England U19 3-0 Norway U19 (European U19 Championship Elite Round, Group 3)
St. George's Park, Main Stadium

An afternoon with many twists and turns for me today, to say the least, led me away from my original journey to finally check off Telford United's New Bucks Head and to a less-drenched facility in the form of England's own St. George's Park.

The home of football
As I finished work at 12:30, I quickly popped on to Twitter to find out the info for my trip to Telford to watch Spain vs Belarus in the Euro Under-19's, only to find that the fixture had been called off due to the dreaded waterlogged pitch. With only one other known fixture taking place on a Wednesday afternoon in the Midlands, I hastily dashed to my car and took the 45 minute drive to Burton to see if I could get my way into the Young Lion's Elite Round opener against Norway. I was certainly feeling pessimistic as I had already enquired about attending a game here during these Elite matches, only to be a met by a reply to say that the matches would be behind closed doors due to them "being friendly matches". I'd chosen to ignore this nonsense and as I arrived at the mega-complex of St. George's I was greeted by a security team who showed me which way to head for the game. After a few minutes of walking past fields, forests, and the mammoth on-sight Hilton Hotel, I arrived at pitch-side of what I thought was the match. When I asked a steward about the England match, I was informed that my original tie between Spain and Belarus was going to be happening here- giving me the rare choice of two games. I decided I'd carry on mooching over to the main pitch and watch my home nation, knowing that if the game was a bore I could easily jump over the fence, so to speak, and see how the young Spaniards were getting on.

This is what I could've had
I had already had the pleasure of watching an England junior side this season, seeing our Under 21 side thrash Bosnia at the Bescot, so I was expecting a similar sort of result today too- my pre-match prediction was 4-0 to the hosts. Our starting eleven boasted the talents of Trevoh Chalobah, brother and Chelsea team-mate of Nathaniel, as well as the Cottagers prodigy Ryan Sessegnon, and Charlton Athletic's pint-sized left-back Jay Dasilva was the captain of the side. Meanwhile the travellers brought with them their own hopefuls which included Kilmarnock's loanee defender Kristoffer Ajer, who wore number 7 for some reason, alongside Brighton target Abdul-Basit Agouda, currently of Stromsgodset IF, and even Feyenoord's Emil Hansson was here! As the game looked set to kick-off following the pre-match National Anthems, many a coach, manager, scout and ex-footballer emerged from the pointy-shaped building aside from the pitch and before I knew it we were up and running. Both sides started with intent, but initially it was Tayo Edun of Fulham who looked to be the main man pulling the strings in midfield. He passed it to his club-mate Sessegnon on more than one occasion and I was instantly impressed by the quality on display today. With ten minutes gone, the first chance fell to the boys in white and it was Lukas Nmecha who headed his chance wide. The youngster, who has just made it to 50 goals in two seasons at various Youth teams for Man City, would prove to have a few chances this afternoon and looked like the sort of future-talent that will get plenty of senior goals eventually.

The picture doesn't show it, but the rain was pelting down by now
There must've been about 300-400 here for the match, but not many were here outside of the parameters of scouting the next big thing. Unlike me, everyone else seemed to be assessing each move of each player and some of the harsh criticism coming out of the mouths of people around me certainly made for a differing atmosphere to what I'm used to. At games I attend, there's normally about five-dozen blokes applauding every decent pass.

The facilities were excellent, the crowd ambience not so great
Ryan Sessegnon, known as the first-ever person born in the noughties to score a professional goal in English football back in August, looked bright on the left-wing and was working well with Dasilva to trick the opposition right-back in many of the opening exchanges. The number 11 struck a shot from outside the box on 23 minutes, but it went just wide on this occasion. The opening goal was just around the corner though, and it would eventually come from the right-hand side just after half-an-hour. As Dujon Sterling, no relation to Raheem, ran down the wing he eventually cut the ball back to Mason Mount and the Chelsea youngster hit home the lofted ball. England 1-0 Norway. The 18-year old was well-placed to get the goal and it would prove to give England a valuable lead at half-time. England could've been two up though and had a Chalobah volley from 3-yards out not been straight at the keeper, we would have been very comfortable as the ref blew- alas, we went in with a slender lead after a decent showing.

I wonder what the clubhouse is like?
With all of England, Spain, Belarus and Norway's games now taking place either here or at Harrison Park in Leek, I will hope to get down to the Norway-Belarus game on Friday afternoon at one of my favoured Evo-Stik grounds. In the meantime, I found myself stood with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink outside the tea van wondering if there would be more goals to come. After the former Burton and QPR boss asked me where the toilets were, I grabbed myself a sausage roll and a tea before heading back to my seat. I did briefly check out the above-pictured room, but it was a bit too fancy for me and I didn't have a piece of red paper tied to my hand to let me into the catering room anyway. Am I bovvered?

There won't be much of this at Harrison Park on Friday
The second-half got off to a great start for the Young Lions and no sooner had the kick-off been taken had the ball fallen to Tayo Edun who unleashed a rocket into the net and doubled the home-sides lead. England 2-0 Norway. A great goal from the central midfielder and that meant England would surely start this stage of the tournament with a win. It is worth noting that our Qualifying Group back in Autumn saw us win the group despite losing 2-3 to the group's hosts Wales and finishing level on six points with both the Young Dragons and Greece's juniors. Luxembourg completed that group and it probably goes without saying, but they obtained nil pois. Norway had gone through in second-place in their qualifiers, finishing just behind the Dutch after a final match 0-1 defeat. These qualifiers had seen Norway destroy San Marino's boys 9-0, with Birk Risa getting five on the day.
England's defence were holding up slightly better
With still over 30 minutes on the clock, England got the final goal of the game and it was through Baggies midfielder Sam Field. Nmecha struck the bar with a thunderous close-range volley and when the ball eventually boing-boinged back to Field, he chested the ball with plenty of composure before thumping the third goal past everyone from 12-yards out. England 3-0 Norway. The West Brom man, who has a handful of games for the first team this season, nearly doubled his tally shortly afterwards, and Norway had a couple of attacks themselves, but ultimately the rain hammered down hard on the lads in the closing stages and there was to be only a couple more half-chances for England as they saw out a comfortable win in the first of three matches in six days.

Three goals, three points. Sorted
Knowing that the Spain-Belarus match was about 4 minutes behind this game, I plodded over to pitch-side of the ground around the corner and made it just in time for the final-whistle of the Belorussian's 0-5 humbling at the hands of their Spanish counterparts. A Barca youngster had scored two, a Real lad got a brace also and another Madrid Juvenil player called Oscar had the other to his name. I'm still glad I chose to watch England, and I am kind of tempted to go back on Friday for the crunch match between England and Spain- which will probably end up depending on if the rain holds off the Belarus-Norway tie at Harrison Park.

Future star, or the next Bolton Wanderers midfielder?
I rushed back to my car and foolish set-off for Wales as I intended to go over to Guilsfield to see an evening fixture like the mad man I am. After a moment of sitting in the rain wondering if the game would be on, I took to everyone's best source Twitter and found confirmation that this one had also fallen to the good old British springtime weather. Ahh well, I have many more games lined-up this week, and hopefully I'll be at Barnet's Hive ground on Monday night for more international goodness- as I this time take in a senior friendly between Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Can't wait!

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