Congratulations to Aidy Boothroyd after guiding England’s Under 21s to next summer’s European Championships in Italy. England will head to Italy for their sixth consecutive Euro Under 21s after qualifying with a game to spare.
The draw promised a bumpy ride but Boothroyd’s side breezed through, never looking in danger of missing out.
Boothroyd’s side began their campaign with a tough away match against Holland but came away with a creditable 1-1 draw thanks to Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s early goal. But England pulled away from the chasing pack with a 3-1 win over Scotland at the Riverside Stadium and back to back win’s over Ukraine thanks largely to Dominic Solanke’s crucial goals in both matches. A hard tough 0-0 draw with the Dutch at Carrow Road was England’s last major step and last night they made sure with a 7-0 hiding of Andorra. In all England have won 7 and drawn 2 of their 9 qualifiers, scoring 21 goals and conceding just 4 with Solanke and Calvert-Lewin notching 4 each.
A History of Frustration
England have put right a lot of historic ills in youth tournaments in recent years, but the Euro Under 21s have proved a tough nut to crack. England’s last win came in 1984 when they won their second straight title with a side that featured future full internationals Mark Hateley, Paul Walsh, Steve Hodge, Gary Stevens, Gary Bailey, Mel Sterland and Danny Wallace.
Stuart Pearce led England to the Final in 2009, but England found themselves missing key men Joe Hart and Gaby Agbonlahor for the final and were trounced 4-0 by a Germany side featuring Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira- they went on to do pretty well at senior level!
England then suffered three successive group stage exits, the last in 2015 under Gareth Southgate. England arrived in the Czech Republic with high hopes after Harry Kane & Saido Berahino had formed a deadly strike partnership in qualifying. But Berahino got injured in the build up and England slumped despite having Kane, John Stones, Jack Butland and Jesse Lingard amongst their number.
The 2017 tournament proved a better experience, Boothroyd’s side started slowly but made it through to the semi-finals with a side featuring Jordan Pickford, Alfie Mawson, Ben Chilwell, Nat Chalobah, Will Hughes, Demarai Gary and Tammy Abraham. England again faced Germany and despite Pickford’s heroics in the shoot-out, England suffered a familiar penalty fate.
The Class of 2019
One crucial advantage England will have this time around is the backbone of the current side was formed in the first cohort of players to go through the St Georges Park set up at junior level, that group went on to win the Under 20 World Cup. From that team Jonjo Kenny, Fikayo Tomorio, Lewis Cook, Kieran Dowell, Josh Onomah, Ademola Lookman, Calvert-Lewin and Solanke are all present and correct in the current Under 21 team.
Add to that Angus Gunn, Jake Clarke-Slater, Tom Davies, Harry Winks, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell, Ryan Sessegnon, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Reiss Nelson, Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes; England have a potentially great squad.
Three eligible players that will inevitably be missing are Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. All three are now integral members of the senior side and Gareth Southgate won’t want to anger their clubs by pushing them back to the Under 21s, particularly given Rashford and Alexander-Arnold went to this summer’s World Cup. There will inevitably be some negotiation with the clubs of players coming off a long domestic season, with Euro 2020 in mind Boothroyd and Southgate will have to tread a fine line. But for now Boothroyd can look back on a job well done and look forward to a summer in Italy.