The England Under-21s have once again shown how hard they are becoming to ignore, even as their exploits in Georgia continue to linger out of the public eye.
Lee Carsley’s side had swept through the group stage of this year’s European Under-21 Championship with minimal fuss and, while they had to work much harder in that quarter-final win over Portugal, their dreams of what some feel is a long overdue triumph at this level remain very much alive.
You might not know all of this is happening, of course, given that the tournament is confined to the UEFA website due to the failure to strike a deal to have the matches televised to the UK viewers. Perhaps that could change now and broadcasters will show more of an intention to provide a platform for this group of talented youngsters if England reach the final in Batumi on Saturday. Israel, who they beat quite comfortably in the group stage, now stand between Carsley’s men and a chance to win what would be England’s first success at this level in nearly 40 years.
Not since the days of Gary Mabbutt and Mark Hateley in 1984 have England Under-21s won the European Championship, but that has arguably never felt closer for a group like this. They are yet to concede in four games, Manchester City goalkeeper James Trafford, who excelled on loan at Bolton last season, looks increasingly inscrutable. Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Levi Colwill look like a shrewd centre-half duo and ahead of them is plenty of talent.
That includes the unlikely first two of Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon and Nottingham Forest’s Morgan Gibbs-White. Carsley’s decision to pair the duo and do without an established striker raised some eyebrows at the start of the tournament, but it certainly paid off here, with Gibbs-White providing the ball for Gordon’s first-half goal. time which turned out to be the difference.
England were impressive in the first half, but the second half was very different, with an almost constant attack from Portugal, whose side reached the final of this tournament two years ago. But England held on to stage the semi-final against Israel at Batumi’s Adjarabet Arena on Wednesday.
England started the brighter of both sides. Clean-cutting chances were rare, although Gordon made a smart save from Celton Biai in the Portugal goal. At the other end, Wolves’ Pedro Neto called Trafford into action with a low save, but as the half progressed you always felt it was England who looked stronger in the game. broken game.
This proved to be the case shortly after the half hour mark as they opened the stalemate in scintillating fashion. Noni Madueke’s through ball freed Gibbs-White and he deftly cut the ball from the angle through the penalty area for Gordon to finish superbly past Biai and score his second goal of the tournament.
England were praised for the way they attacked throughout the match, underlined by the quality of the goal that settled the tie. But they had to call on the other side of their game after half-time, with Portugal emerging from the locker room with a goal enriched. England’s resilience has been tested on many occasions, although it can be said that Trafford hasn’t been called up too many times.