LATE goals by their substitute strikers, Kevin Gallen and Robbie Fowler, enabled England to establish themselves as Group Two leaders in the European Under-18 Championship finals by beating France at Stoke yesterday.
England had tested the patience of a partisan crowd of nearly 7,000 before Gallen, of Queen's Park Rangers, made the breakthrough with seven minutes remaining. The French were possibly contemplating the injustice of it all when Fowler, who is Gallen's closest friend in the squad despite being with Liverpool, put the outcome beyond doubt.
The host nation now move on to Walsall to play the Netherlands tomorrow night, when victory would give them a strong chance of playing in next Sunday's final at Nottingham Forest. Ted Powell, their manager, admitted it had been a struggle, but felt England were rewarded for their resilience.
'We were under the cosh a bit in the second half, and we had to sort that out with the double switch,' Powell said. 'But we said at half-time that the longer the game went, the stronger we'd get. It was a satisfactory result but the performance was below what we are capable of. If we can improve the teamwork, and get the boys sharper, we can win the competition.'
Mid-July, half-way through an Ashes series, is no time to be launching a new campaign, let alone staging an important tournament. The Potteries public, augmented by banner- carrying fans of QPR, Fulham, Leeds and, poignantly, Barnet, did their best to lift England, but at times there was a laboured look to their play.
This should not have been surprising given that seven of the team, those from Leeds and Manchester United, were contesting the FA Youth Cup final just eight weeks ago. It was inevitable that certain players would lack the requisite match-fitness, especially since their clubs pulled them out of England's preparatory tour of Scandinavia.
The taller, more fluid French might have scored after only four minutes when Pascal Bedrossian, an embryonic Papin, forced Chris Day to save with his legs. Five minutes later, Mark Tinkler saw a header cleared via the crossbar, while Jamie Forrester blazed over in the 36th minute after Paul Scholes had slipped him clear.
France were enjoying a good spell when Powell opted for fresh legs with 17 minutes left, and the ploy transformed the match. In the 83rd minute, Fowler rode two tackles before slipping the ball to Julian Joachim, whose low cross was stabbed home by Gallen, his sixth England goal.
Three minutes later Fowler, who admitted he had been 'cursing' Powell from the bench for not starting him, latched on to Day's long clearance and lobbed the French keeper from fully 25 yards. It was his fifth goal for his country, and England celebrated with almost indecent gusto.
ENGLAND: Day (Tottenham); G Neville (Manchester United), Sharp (Leeds), Caskey (Tottenham, capt), Casper (Manchester United), Campbell (Tottenham), Tinkler (Leeds), Butt (Manchester United), Joachim (Leicester), Forrester (Leeds), Scholes (Manchester United). Substitutes: Fowler (Liverpool) for Scholes, 73; K Gallen (QPR) for Forrester, 73.
FRANCE: Loussouarn (Nantes); Schreiner (Sochaux), Fischer (Bordeaux), Benaud (Nantes), Danjou (Auxerre), Djetou (Strasbourg), Le Paih (Nantes), Rouviere (Montpellier, capt), Grenet (Bordeaux), Bedrossian (Cannes), Sibierski (Lille). Substitutes: Dacourt (Styrasborug) for Le Paih, 43; Fouret (Lyon) for Grenet, 24.
Referee: G Grabher (Austria).
RESULTS: Group One: Portugal 0 Romania 0 (1,408); Hungary 1 Turkey 1 (1,782). Group Two: The Netherlands 2 Spain 3 (1,668); England 2 (Gallen 83, Fowler 85) France 0 (6,756).Reuse content