Theo Walcott came off the bench for the final 14 minutes of this compelling play-off second leg last night to secure England Under-21s' place in the European Championship finals in the Netherlands next summer. Two masterful pieces of finishing by the Arsenal prodigy stole a memorable victory at the BayArena, Leverkusen, after both teams had a man sent off.
"I'm very proud of the team," said the England Under-21 manager, Peter Taylor. "I knew [Walcott] had fresh legs and knew he could score. Those were two fantastic goals, and I'm delighted for him and delighted for the team."
Taylor also called for a swift decision by the FA on whether to keep him on as manager. Taylor could be in charge at next year's finals if Steve McClaren does not make a full-time appointment. "The FA should make a swift decision on this," Taylor said. "If it is me, then I'd be delighted - it would be an honour - but if it is someone else they need to look at the team before next year's tournament and spend as much time as possible [with them]."
Both teams were already down to 10 men before Walcott was brought on after 76 minutes. He was sent through eight minutes later before finishing coolly past Michael Rensing for his third Under-21 goal in four appearances. He then netted again in injury time when he broke with mesmerising pace from the halfway line and raced down the left to finish in a style more than a little reminiscent of his Arsenal team-mate, Thierry Henry.
Gonzalo Castro had missed a penalty for the hosts in the first half, allowing Taylor's youngsters to maintain their 1-0 lead from the first leg. The hosts then had Markus Brzenska dismissed for a professional foul on David Nugent after 13 minutes, pulling back the Preston striker.
There was then a red card for England defender Steven Taylor, who picked up the second of two bookings for a rash challenge just before the hour mark, reducing England to 10 men.
England had not qualified for the European Under-21 Championship finals since 2002 but they now have the chance to win the trophy for the first time since 1984, the same year that the oldest players in the current squad were born.
Despite German pressure, England's goalkeeper Scott Carson was rarely under pressure, although a late corner caused havoc in England's penalty area.
Then came Walcott's cameo. His second visit to Germany proved to be more fulfilling than his first - with the England World Cup squad last summer.
Germany Under-21: Rensing; Reinhardt, Ochs (Freis, 82), Brzenska, Hilbert, Castro, Boateng, Polanski, Kiessling, Hunt, Gonez. Substitutes: Tschauner, Dum, Kruska, Otti, Schonheim, Tasci.
England Under-21 (4-5-1): Carson (Liverpool); S Taylor (Newcastle), Richards (Manchester City), Ferdinand (West Ham), Baines (Wigan); Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Reo-Coker (West Ham), Huddlestone, (Tottenham Hotspur), Milner (Aston Villa), Young (Watford); Nugent (Preston). Substitutes used: Hoyte (Arsenal) for Nugent, 66; Walcott (Arsenal) for Agbonlahor, 76; Jerome (Birmingham City).
Referee: J Jara (Czech Republic)
* Kaka scored a second-half winner to earn Brazil a 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador in a friendly in Stockholm last night. Ecuador went ahead through Felix Borja, but had Luis Antonio Valencia sent off before Fred equalised.
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