Our stay in Serbia was extended by another few days at least following Monday’s victory over the host nation, and the fact that Denmark did us a remarkable favour by beating France in the other Group A game.
It was a strange scenario for the Young Lions as the odds seemed stacked against them reaching the semi-final. Whatever the result of the game with Serbia, and England knew they had to win in order to stand any chance of progression here or to qualify for the World Cup, once Denmark had already qualified for the semi-final after game two they were always likely to make changes to their team for the final Group A game. As a result, France were predicted by many to beat them and get their first win of the competition to eliminate England. But as they say, there’s always a twist in the tail in football.
As expected, Danish coach Thomas Frank made seven alterations to his starting line-up and who could blame him? John Peacock admitted after the game last Friday that he would have done exactly the same, as he did in 2010 when his team had won their first two games.
But the French flattered to deceive in Novi Sad, prompting their coach Patrick Gonfalone to question the attitude and team mentality of his players.
That wasn’t the case for England though, as the squad dug deep and gave Peacock exactly what he had asked of them by starting the game well. However, I don’t think anyone expected a three goal lead within 18 minutes. Brad Smith opened the scoring, before Hallam Hope notched his second and third goals of the tournament to become the competition’s top scorer so far and it was a fully deserved win for the Young Lions.
The squad were also joined by Michael Walker, of the Daily Mail on Sunday evening as he came out to report on the game. Staying in the same hotel as the squad, he managed to get a good insight into how the preparations and routines are undertaken by everyone involved, as well as speaking to Peacock, Sir Trevor Brooking and Club England MD Adrian Bevington. His report from Novi Sad can be seen here and it’s well worth a read.
So now, it’s onto the Dutch in Thursday’s semi-final. The Oranje arrived at the hotel in Novi Sad on Tuesday afternoon along with Steffen Freund’s German squad, who will play Denmark in the other semi.
With DVDs of their three group games and qualifying matches having already been studied by the coaching staff, it’s a case of on with the next one, which takes place tomorrow morning at 10.30am BST and live on Eurosport.
Whilst it may look as though the second semi-final, with its late afternoon kick-off appears a more favourable slot at first, it must be remembered that Sunday’s final is an 11am kick-off so the winners will be that little more accustomed to an early start than their opponents perhaps so it should be seen as good preparation for both teams.
A light training session followed for the squad on Tuesday morning, before the group took an afternoon trip to the River Danube and a beach on its banks. With the sunshine out again, it gave the players chance to have a stroll and a relaxing few hours before dinner out at a restaurant atop the Fortress of Petrovaradin. Interestingly, a number of the group ordered enchilladas and with the trip to the World Cup in Mexico next month to come, there wasn’t any irony about that!
Also joining the squad was Jack Dunn, who arrived in Novi Sad on Tuesday evening as a replacement for his Liverpool club mate Raheem Sterling.
Wednesday will see a more lively training session with the game to come in less than 24 hours, so minds are now firmly focused on the next stage and hopefully another step towards retaining the U17 European title.
In the meantime, Wednesday evening sees the Serbian Cup semi-final take place in Belgrade between FK Vojvodina and Partizan Belgrade. UEFA are providing a coach there from the hotel to watch the game, so I’m going to try and take advantage to sample the no doubt white hot atmosphere of a cup tie.