After England’s dramatic yet heartbreaking penalty shootout exit in Kiev – most home nation sporting fans will think all is lost this summer. They’re wrong.
England under 19s kick off their European Under 19 Championship campaign next week with a very propitious squad that could emulate the success of John Peacock’s triumphant Under 17 squad in 2010.
Estonia hosts this year’s annual tournament that was won last year by the seemingly unstoppable Spaniards. Since its reform in 2002 from an under 18 competition to under 19, England have finished runners-up on two occasions, firstly in 2005 and more recently in the 2009 edition of the tournament.
This year however offers more hope than ever. A quick glance at the England squad blazes established young talent that any top Premier League side would be grateful to have coming through the ranks.
England will face Croatia, Serbia and France in the group stage and will qualify for next year’s FIFA Under 20 World Cup if they finish in the top three places within the group. Either Portugal, Spain, Greece or the host nation await England if they can pass through the first phase. Their first game will be played on Tuesday against the Croatians.
Whilst Spain’s backline dominated the best eleven of this year’s European Championship, England’s defenders will be hoping to do the same in this competition.
Jack Robinson, Liverpool’s youngest ever debutant, will feature for Noel Blake’s side despite only making two senior appearances for the Reds this season following the arrival of Jose Enrique to Anfield. He came on to the scene in 2011 when a 16-year-old Robinson confidently coped with the frightening pace of Theo Walcott of Arsenal in a Premier League tie. After making his way through the England youth ranks, Robinson is now a regular feature in the under 19s side at international level.
Playing alongside him will be Eric Dier, of whom controversy has followed in recent seasons. The Cheltenham-born centre back has played his trade with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal since 2003. However, he has been on loan at Everton since January 2011 despite not making any first-team appearances. He has not made a firm decision on where his international allegiance lies, but England will be keen to secure the services of the 18-year-old, who’s tipped for an extremely promising international future. Possibly aiding England’s hopes of having Dier in the long-term will be the fact that he was featured in Umbro’s high-profile England kit promotion during 2011, despite not making any appearances at any level for England. This inclusion led the Daily Mail to question the FA to which they replied that he would be selected for an England squad in the coming weeks. True to their word he was selected in Blake’s Under 18 side and has played regularly in the England youth ranks ever since.
Manchester United brothers Michael and William Keane would have both been included in the squad but unfortunately William was unable for selection after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury whilst on duty with the England squad. However, Michael is determined to take his country to glory in Estonia after a successful season with United that has seen him and his brother being bought under the microscope and tipped for Old Trafford glory in seasons to come.
One of England’s most gifted young wingers comes in the form of Nathan Redmond. The 18-year-old Birmingham City youngster has been a regular in the Blues play-off charge this year as well as their Europa League journey, which was unluckily halted at the group phase. He has made 37 appearances in all competitions this season, scoring 7 goals in the process. The electrifying winger made 17 appearances for England Under 17s before making the step-up and should feature in Stuart Pearce’s under 21 plans next season.
Ross Barkley has played for the under 21 side four times prior to this tournament, so should find room to express himself against arguably less-talented opposition in Estonia. He has appeared in an Everton first-team shirt nine times this season and was rewarded with a four-and-a-half year contract at Goodison Park, keeping him there until 2016.
Adding even more strength to the midfield is Conor Coady, captain of the Liverpool side that reached last season’s NextGen Series semi-final; Nathaniel Chalobah, the youngest but by far one of the most experienced members of the squad; George Thorne, who was a regular at Portsmouth last year; and John Lundstram, a recent call up to the under 19s squad.
Every side needs a wealth of talent upfront to get anywhere and England should have no problems firing goals in Estonia. After impressing in last season’s Europa League and repeatedly netting for Millwall during a six-month loan spell, Harry Kane comes into the tournament full of confidence and eager to impress in a bid to push for a first-team spot at White Hart Lane next season.
West Ham United forward Rob Hall was a part of the squad that won the 2010 Under 17 tournament in Liechenstein and told TheFA.com earlier this week: “I have played one game before at U19 level against Denmark back in November and I scored the winner, so I know I can play at this level and do well.”
Arsenal’s Benik Afobe, West Brom’s Saido Berahino and Everton’s Hallam Hope all join those two strikers in a bid to fire England to glory in eastern Europe.
England Under 19 full squad: Goalkeepers; Sam Johnstone (Manchester United), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough): Defenders; Jack Robinson (Liverpool), Tom Thorpe (Manchester United), Michael Keane (Manchester United), Luke Garbutt (Everton), Eric Dier (Everton):Midfielders; George Thorne (West Bromwich Albion), Conor Coady (Liverpool), Ross Barkley (Everton), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), John Lundstram (Everton), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham City): Forwards; Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Benik Afobe (Arsenal), Robert Hall (West Ham United), Hallam Hope (Everton).