Saido Berahino: England Under-21s are steeled for possible racist abuse

Gareth Southgate's team face Croatia in Kruzevac

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The Independent Football

Saido Berahino has said England’s Under-21s are prepared for any potential racial intimidation as they fly out to the Balkans focused on clinching qualification for the European Championship finals.

The West Bromwich Albion striker scored the deciding penalty at Molineux in Friday’s first leg to give Gareth Southgate’s team a 2-1 advantage over Croatia ahead of Tuesday's return – almost two years to the day after the battle of Kruzevac.

Jack Butland, the current captain and a survivor of the terrifying scenes that scarred England’s brave play-off victory in Serbia, has warned Berahino and team-mates of how to deal with any provocation that could come their way in Vinkovci, a Croatian town close to the Serbian border.

Berahino admitted that England’s response to any such hostility will be the key to whether they qualify for next summer’s tournament in the Czech Republic. “If it does happen [racist abuse] we have had discussions and we know how to deal with it,” the striker said. “We are just going to let the referee handle it, and we are not going to get involved in any of it. That is how we will qualify.”

England looked after themselves as Croatia finished the first leg with some physical challenges, and Berahino added: “We will definitely need more of that character to get through the second leg.

“We are going to possibly encounter all sorts of situations and we have to be ready for anything.

“We expect Croatia to give their all and push on. They won’t give an inch at their place. They showed us respect on Friday because they were away from home. It will be a time for cool heads. We can’t go out there panicking.”

West Brom are looking to reward Berahino, the leading English goalscorer in the Premier League, with a new contract. His superb form has led to calls for him to be promoted to the senior England squad and the striker said:   “You just concentrate on each game. But of course we notice all the names who have got called up and you aspire to that.”

His nine goals for the Under-21s have taken him to within reach of the England record of 13 at this level, shared by Francis Jeffers and Alan Shearer.

“It is great that target is not far away now,” he said. “Of course it is a target. We have had a great campaign so far and we all look forward to every game that comes along.”