Patient England Into Semi-Finals

Keith Downing’s England left it late to overcome a tame Dutch side to qualify for the Semi-Finals of the 2017 European U19 in Tbilisi yesterday.

It was to be a dominant performance from a slick England side, but the biggest event of the opening stages of the tie wasn’t a goal or a chance. England full back Easah Suliman jumped into an aerial battle with Holland striker Joel Piroe and the PSV man came off worse. In worrying scenes at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadioni, Piroe had to be stretchered off meaning that there was to be no repeat of his heroics in the victory over Germany. The Dutch struggled to recover from the early blow and could have been behind shortly after when Ryan Sessegnon worked space on the left and fired a ball across that narrowly missed Isaac Buckley-Ricketts.

It wasn’t to be long before Downing’s men were cruising and it was Sessegnon again who worked a golden opportunity when he got through on the left, but the quality of delivery just wasn’t good enough from the Fulham man. Manchester City striker Lukas Nmecha was drafted into the starting eleven in replacement of Marcus Edwards and failed to capitalise on the chance of the match when he was played through by Mason Mount, but saw his shot deflected wide. The England dominance continued as more chances were squandered, this time it was the turn of the EFL Championship wonder kid Sessegnon who was put clean through on goal but could only fire a weak effort straight at Justin Bijlow in the Holland net. Sessegnon thought he had come the closest to scoring when he burst through on the left and struck the post, but the linesman had already flagged for offside.

As the half went on the Netherlands grew into the game, coming close when Navajo Bakboord breached the England back four only to fire over Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. In a bizarre incident just before half-time, referee Davide Massa went for a tumble and so did Trevor Chalobah as he did well to block a powerful Javairo Dilrosun effort. The visitors most promising move of the half came when a dangerous ball was floated towards Dani De Wit at the far post, but the cross was just too high for the Ajax midfielder. Overall, England would go into the break as the happier side despite the fact that they should have been leading comfortably at that stage.

The Three Lions started the second-half in the same vein that they ended the first, with a series of chances being missed by Chelsea starlet Mason Mount. The first opportunity that fell the 18-year-old’s way was arguably the best, when he made a meal of his shot from a pocket of space in the left side of the box. The second chance that fell the way of Mount was created by Dijon Sterling who went on a dazzling run down the left side and pulled the ball back to the edge of the box, the Match Day One goal scorer then blazed his first time shot over the bar. The Netherlands hadn’t conceded a goal since October prior to this tournament and that showed when Mount’s third clear-cut chance of the half was well saved by the skipper Bijlow.

The Chelsea full-back Dijon Sterling was again causing the Dutch defence problems when he burst into the box on the right, but he could only do enough to win a corner despite a penalty appeal from his teammates. Another man who was giving the Holland back four plenty to think about was Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, the 19-year-old cut in and fired a hard shot at Bijlow, but the Feyenoord man was well up to the task of saving it. As the game wore on, the Netherlands rarely threatened to make The Three Lions pay for their catalogue of missed chances, but did come close to snatching the lead when Piroe’s replacement Jay-Roy Grot fired a shot from range just wide. The introduction of a man that Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said reminded him of a young Lionel Messi proved pivotal for Keith Downing as the breakthrough finally came just four minutes from time.

It was the “young Messi” Marcus Edwards who played a key role in the goal and another substitute Ben Brereton who finished it off. Edwards went venturing into the Dutch box down the right side and beat several men on his way to laying the ball back to Sessegnon, the 17-year-old fired a low shot at goal that collided with Bijlow and two defenders. The quick-fire ball then found its way to the Nottingham Forest youngster Brereton, who reacted quickly to guide the ball into the empty net giving England a deserved and long-awaited lead. There was to be no quick response and grand-stand finish from Maarten Stekelenburg’s men and England saw the game out comfortably to qualify for the Semi-Finals with one group B game to spare.

The Netherlands have now left themselves with work to do if they are to join England in the next stage of the competition and will need to beat Bulgaria if they are to have a chance on Sunday in Gori. Whereas, England can now relax and will have the chance to gain revenge on Germany for knocking the U21 side out of their European Championship, by dumping them out of the competition in Tbilisi on the same day.