Tuesday, October 21, 2008

England will go to Sweden for U21 football

Ten-man England held on for a 2-2 draw against Wales to reach the finals of the Under-21 European Championship with a hard-fought 5-4 aggregate victory. Tom Huddlestone's early free-kick put England in control on the night.

But Wales replied with Aaron Ramsey's superb strike and a cool Simon Church finish before an unlucky Sam Vokes own goal restored England's advantage. Huddlestone's red card gave Wales hope but the closest they came to another goal was when Vokes hit the post.

England had to defend in numbers for the final 25 minutes after the Tottenham midfielder was sent off for a late tackle on Darcy Blake but it is they who will go to Sweden for next summer's finals. And the only consolation for Wales was that they managed to push their more illustrious opponents all the way despite their comparative lack of experience and pedigree.

And in the early stages the gulf in class was obvious, with Stuart Pearce's side dominating possession and Wales trying, unsuccessfully, to get their playmaker Ramsey on the ball. Following a spell of heavy pressure, it was no surprise when England took the lead on 13 minutes but the manner of their goal was disappointing for Wales.

Ramsey needless fouled Adam Johnson on the edge of the area and, although Huddlestone struck his free-kick firmly, Owain Fon Williams' wall was not sturdy enough and he also reacted slowly as the ball flashed past him and into the net. Initially, Wales created nothing in response and England's defence continued to look comfortable.

But that all changed when Ramsey levelled with a goal out of nowhere on 24 minutes - the £5m Arsenal midfielder picking up the ball 30 yards out and taking a touch before sending a shot rocketing into the top corner.

And the 17-year-old rocked England again five minutes later when he ran at their defence and slipped an inch-perfect pass through to Church, who coolly lifted the ball over the on-rushing Joe Hart for his third goal of the tie. That brought Wales level at 4-4 on aggregate and although England still had the lead on away goals they still had work to do.

But Wales' fragility at set-pieces meant the home side did not have to wait long to regain their advantage. After 35 minutes, another free-kick - this time whipped in from the right by Jamie O'Hara - was met by Steven Taylor and bounced off Vokes into the net.

The match settled down after the break, with both sides seemingly aware of the importance of the next goal. But Huddlestone's dismissal gave Wales the impetus and, with Ramsey orchestrating the play, they pushed forward with real purpose.

By now, England were on the back foot, with substitute Fraizer Campbell cutting an isolated figure up front. Pearce's men defended stubbornly, however, and Wales' last chance came and went when Vokes' low shot crashed against the post.

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