Italy Under-21's 2-0 defeat by Georgia yesterday left England with an unassailable lead at the top of Group Two.
England's 1-0 victory over Moldova at Wycombe's Adams Park on Tuesday night took them on to 15 points with one game to play, away against Italy, who will go into that last game four points adrift.
Marcus Hall, the Coventry defender, earned England their victory. Hall's goals are collectors items, and he last found the net in a reserve match for Coventry midway through the 1996-97 season. But the centre-half came up took England closer to the European Championship finals next May with his late winner on Tuesday night at Wycombe's Adams Park. Hall's close- range strike put England four points clear of Italy and maintained their unbeaten record in the competition.
Hall admitted he expected to receive unmerciful stick from his Coventry team-mates after his 72nd-minute close-range effort settled the issue. "It was my first goal in ages," he said. "The last one I got was for Coventry reserves against Aston Villa reserves last season. I've never scored for the Coventry first team, and to get my first international goal was a great feeling. The feeling was of total relief, because we were finding it hard to break Moldova down. They played really defensively in the hope of hitting us on the break.
"I will get slaughtered when I go back to Coventry by the likes of Paul Williams. I go up for set-pieces at Coventry but nothing has happened. But I don't care about the stick. They haven't done what I've done, have they?"
Hall said he enjoyed playing on the left side of the three-man defensive formation employed by the Under-21 coach, Peter Taylor, as he strives to regain his place in the starting line-up at Highfield Road.
England dominated for long periods but seldom looked like opening up the Moldovans, who packed the midfield area until a Jamie Carragher header was flicked on by Riccardo Scimeca, and Hall applied the finishing touch.
The goals that ended Italy's hopes away in Rustavi - and put England through - came in quick succession in the second half, Georgi Kiknadze putting the home side ahead after 59 minutes and Levan Kebadze wrapped up the Georgian victory five minutes later.Reuse content