Football: England's future bears the weight of expectation: Henry Winter looks forward to the World Youth Cup, which starts today in Sydney

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE BARMBY brouhaha should have made people smile - at least there is teenage talent around considered indispensable for club and country.

England youth, whose attack the Nick Barmby spearheads against South Korea in Melbourne on Sunday, has been a poor, often forgotten, kid brother in the national family. The kit may be the same, but some of the faces in the Under- 20 line-ups were less familiar. England came third in the inaugural event of 1981 (also in Australia) but have struggled since.

Foreign sniggers about unrecognisable and unsuccessful squads prompted the Football Association, with Fifa's urging, to take on the clubs, like Barmby's Tottenham, and ensure the selection of a truly representative XI for the Fifa Coca-Cola Cup, which begins today when the hosts, Australia, meet Colombia in Sydney. 'It is the first time ever that an English team has been able to bring a squad as selected,' said David Burnside, the former ball- juggling West Brom forward who now manages the youth team.

Lancaster Gate's determination to call upon the likes of Barmby, Chris Bart-Williams, Ian Selley and Jamie Pollock - four Premier League regulars - was rooted in earlier embarrassments. 'After our string of fourth-choice players were knocked out by Qatar a few years ago, I vowed never to take a substandard team out again,' Sir Bert Millichip, the FA chairman, said.

Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Glenn Hoddle all wore the youth team shirt, but it had been had devalued. This time, although one contender was declared unavailable by his club because of 'toothache', Burnside got his best side, selecting the pick of the crop who had performed so positively in the European Championships in Germany last summer. There England's young lions tore Poland apart, a 4-5-1 formation freeing midfield attacking spirits to deliver a 6-1 scoreline. They even gave the Poles a goal start.

'Uefa officials said that they had never seen an English team play like that,' Burnside said. 'We drew Poland in, won the ball and then attacked in numbers.'

A semi-final against Portugal (now chasing a third successive world title) ended, with echos of Turin 1990, in tears, England losing 12-11 on penalties. The one consolation was the ticket to Oz for reaching the last four.

Turkey, who beat Portugal 2-1 in the final, stand between England and control of Group C in Melbourne. At the airport this week the European champions were greeted by 600 members of the city's Turkish community convinced they were welcoming potential finalists. The peach in Melbourne comes next Thursday when England, in Graham Taylor's presence, meet these young Turks.

The scorers against Poland form England's spine Down Under: Chelsea's Andy Myers, who struck twice, Barmby, Bart-Williams, and the Newcastle United duo, Steve Watson and Alan Thompson will be gunning for Korea. Burnside's midfield is underpinned by Selley, a growing influence at Arsenal, Darren Caskey, the tough-tackling captain from Tottenham, and Pollock, whose battling brio is much loved at Boro. Further protecting David Watson, the Barnsley keeper, are Chelsea's versatile Ian Pearce and Anthony Hughes, of Crewe. A promising cocktail - and filled with spirit.

Korea and the super-fit college boys of America are not expected to trouble unduly Turkey or England, although the US could prove dark horses. 'If any team thinks we're going to be pushovers, they will have to think again,' their manager, Bobbie Howe, who played alongside Moore at West Ham in the 1960s, said.

Despite Howe's warning, England have had a favourable draw. If Caskey leads his team to the quarter-finals - and FA officials will be wreathed in red faces if he fails - they will meet one of the top two from Group D, probably Brazil, twice champions with a fabulous striker in Andriano, or Mexico. This equation sounds awkward for England but it could have been far worse.

Countries from Group B, whom England cannot meet until the semis, could provide the eventual winners. Uruguay are arguably the weakest of the Brisbane four but their brilliant striker Fernando Correa and occasionally uncompromising style, which may win them more yellow cards than friends, will upset the smoothest running of teams. Uruguay's opening fixture tomorrow promises fireworks: Ghana, the tip of Fifa president Joao Havelange, are flying. With the basis of their formidable world championship- winning Under-17 side from two years ago still in the groove, Nii Lamptey's African champions will provide spectacular entertainment for the two billion viewers who organisers predict will tune in over the next fortnight.

Portugal's reputation precedes them. Favourites, and rightly so given their individual skill and collective enterprise, they still face a challenging start against Germany, champions in 1981.

The top two from this unpredictable foursome face an easier subsequent round tackling the leading pair of Group A, the well organised Australia and Colombia.

England's prospects look reasonable and reaching the final is not impossible; many in England will grumble if they fail to achieve that.

----------------------------------------------------------------- FIFA / COCA-COLA WORLD YOUTH CUP PROGRAMME ----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP A 5 Mar Australia v Colombia (Sydney). 6 Mar Russia v Cameroon (Canberra). 8 Mar Colombia v Cameroon (Canberra); Australia v Russia (Sydney). 11 Mar Colombia v Russia; Australia v Cameroon (both Sydney). GROUP B (all Brisbane) 6 Mar Portugal v Germany; Uruguay v Ghana. 9 Mar Germany v Ghana; Portugal v Uruguay.

11 Mar Germany v Uruguay; Portugal v Ghana. GROUP C (all Melbourne) 7 Mar South Korea v England; Turkey v United States. 9 Mar England v US; S Korea v Turkey. 11 Mar England v Turkey; S Korea v US. GROUP D (all Adelaide) 7 Mar Mexico v Norway; Brazil v Saudi Arabia. 9 Mar Norway v S Arabia; Mexico v Brazil. 11 Mar Norway v Brazil; Mexico v S Arabia. QUARTER-FINALS 13 Mar Group B winners v Group A runners-up (Brisbane); Group A winners v Group B runners- up (Sydney). 14 Mar Group C winners v Group D runners-up (Melbourne); Group D winners v Group C runners-up (Adelaide). SEMI-FINALS 17 Mar (Melbourne and Sydney). FINAL AND THIRD-PLACE 20 Mar (Sydney). -----------------------------------------------------------------