U19 Euros preview: England set for glory... possibly
After EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs typically frustrating Euro exit in Kiev, most Three Lions fans will think all is lost this summer. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre wrong.
The European Under-19 Championships kick off this week in Estonia Ã¢ÂÂ and a strong England squad could well emulate the success of John PeacockÃ¢ÂÂs triumphant U17 squad in 2010.
An annual tournament, the Euro U19s were won last year by Spain, who have triumphed five times in the 10 tournaments since its 2002 reformatting from an under-18 competition. During that decade England have finished runners-up twice, in 2005 (a team featuring Matt Mills, Matty Fryatt and Matt Jarvis) and 2009 (Henri Lansbury, Nathan Delfouneso, Kyle Walker).
However, this year offers more hope than ever. A quick glance at the England squad displays established young talent that any top Premier League side would be grateful to have coming through the ranks; indeed, 15 of the 18-man squad are on the books at Premier League sides.
Whilst SpainÃ¢ÂÂs back-line dominated UEFA's team of the tournament for this yearÃ¢ÂÂs senior Euros, EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs defenders will be hoping to do the same in this competition.
At left-back for Noel BlakeÃ¢ÂÂs side will be LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs youngest-ever debutant. In a Premier League game in April 2011, Jack Robinson confidently coped with the frightening pace of Arsenal's Theo Walcott despite only being 16. Having climbed through the England ranks, Robinson is now a regular in the under-19s.
Playing alongside him will be Eric Dier, who has an interesting back-story. Cheltenham-born but raised in Portugal, the 6ft 2in centre back has been on Sporting Lisbon's books since the age of nine and signed professional terms at 16.
Dier went to Everton on a six-month loan in 2011 but didn't make the first team, and featured in a high-profile Umbro England kit promotion Ã¢ÂÂ despite, as the Daily Mail pointed out, never having represented the country of his birth at any level. That was quickly rectified and England will be hoping Dier sticks with the country of his birth.
Alongside Dier could be another recent call-up with mixed heritage: Michael Keane. A regular for Manchester United reserves, the Stockport-born centre-back has Irish ancestry and represented the Republic at U17, U18 and U19 level but switched to England. His twin brother Will, a striker also on United's books, has represented the Young Lions at all levels from U16 to U21 but sadly suffered a cruciate knee ligament on England duty.
The U19s during qualification: (back, l to r) Jack Robinson, Michael Keane, Tom Thorpe, William Keane, Harry Kane, Sam Johnstone; (front) Eric Dier, Ross Barkley, John Lundstram, Nathaniel Chalobah, Saido Berahino
England's captain is also a Manchester United player, Tom Thorpe, who can play at centre-back or in defensive midfield. If selected in the latter position he may be alongside Ross Barkley. The highly-regarded Everton player has won four England U21 caps and should find room to express himself in Estonia among younger players. Not that age fazes him: he appear nine times for Everton's first team in 2011/12 and was rewarded with a four-and-a-half year contract at Goodison Park.
Adding even more strength to the midfield is Conor Coady, captain of the Liverpool side that reached last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs NextGen Series semi-final. Chelsea's Nathaniel Chalobah may be the squad's youngest member but he's experienced at various levels since his elevation from the U16s: he captained England at last summer's U17 World Cup, where he was joined by Everton reserve regular John Lundstram, a hard-tackling left-footer who has now been drafted into the U19s.
One of EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs most gifted and experienced youngsters is Nathan Redmond: the 18-year-old made 37 appearances for Birmingham City last season, scoring seven goals in the process. The electrifying winger was also won 19 caps for the U17s before making the step up and should feature in Stuart PearceÃ¢ÂÂs under-21 plans next season.
Every side needs talent up top and England should have no problems scoring in Estonia. After impressing in last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
Chalobah and Kane celebrate. Will they be at it again?
Among the other options are ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs Benik Afobe, who has scored five in seven for the U19s after bagging 11 in 23 for the U17s; West BromÃ¢ÂÂs Burundi-born Saido Berahino, who has scored for England at every level from the U16s up; and EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs Hallam Hope, who scored in last summer's U17 World Cup.
Alternatively, England could turn to West Ham forward Robert Hall, who won the 2010 Euro Under-17 tournament in Liechtenstein alongside Chalobah, Thorpe, Coady, Barkley, Berahino and Afobe Ã¢ÂÂ and isn't worried about making the step up. As he told TheFA.com last week, "I've played one game before at U19 level and I scored the winner Ã¢ÂÂ so I know I can play at this level and do well.Ã¢ÂÂ Noel Blake will hope he's right.
In their group, England start on Tuesday 3rd against Croatia before facing Serbia and France. If they finish in the top two they'll face a semi-final against Portugal, Spain, Greece or the hosts.
Looking to the longer term, as long as they avoid finishing bottom of the group they will qualify for next yearÃ¢ÂÂs Under-20 World Cup. That can only help further the education of an pleasingly promising group of players representing England's future.
England Under 19 squad:
Goalkeepers Sam Johnstone (Manchester United), Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough)
Defenders Eric Dier (Everton), Luke Garbutt (Everton), Michael Keane (Manchester United), Jack Robinson (Liverpool), Tom Thorpe (Manchester United)
Midfielders Ross Barkley (Everton), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Liverpool), John Lundstram (Everton), Nathan Redmond (Birmingham), George Thorne (West Bromwich Albion)
Forwards Benik Afobe (Arsenal), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Robert Hall (West Ham United), Hallam Hope (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fixtures (kick-off times in BST)
Tue 3rd: England v Croatia (3.30pm)
Fri 6th: Serbia v England (3.30pm)
Mon 9th: France v England (6pm)
Semi-final: Thu 12th
Final: Sun 15th