It's the FIFA World Cup... so why have England sent their fifth team?
01 October 2009 07:53
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Matt Barlow investigates why the England Under 20 side have gone from bad to worse — and it’s not down to lack of talent.
Jamie Carragher is the answer and for once the question has nothing to do with own goals.
Instead it is this: name the last man to score for England in FIFA’s Under 20 World Cup?
That’s right, 31-year- old Carragher — 12 years and three months ago against Argentina in Malaysia.
Eight games and 761 minutes of football later, England’s Under 20s are still searching for the net.
No-one was forthcoming on Tuesday when Brian Eastick’s team were walloped 4-0 by Ghana in their second group game in Egypt.
Nor in the first game against Uruguay.
‘We were outplayed in every department, physically, technically and tactically,’ said boss Eastick, after the thrashing by Ghana.
It leaves England with only a slim chance of making the knock-out stages as one of the best third-placed teams in the competition.
An early exit will not come as a shock to anyone paying attention. Eastick is down to his fourth and fifth picks in some positions.
With the FA powerless to force attendance because the games fall outside official FIFA dates, more than 40 players have been made unavailable by their clubs.
To make matters worse, a virus swept through the squad in Egypt. Ghana, who have had their players together at a training camp for the last two months, have six full internationals in their squad.
England’s can barely muster a first-team appearance between them — at a tournament regarded by FIFA as second only to the World Cup.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development, and England Under 21 boss Stuart Pearce were in Ismailia to see the Ghanaians run riot with a display which would have tested a full-strength English team.
But the cream of the next generation were elsewhere. Daniel Sturridge and Sam Hutchinson were in Cyprus, training with Chelsea ahead the Champions League tie.
Kieran Gibbs was on the Arsenal subs’ bench as Olympiakos were beaten at the Emirates on Tuesday. Jack Rodwell was heading to Belarus with Everton for Europa League action.
West Ham pair James Tomkins and Junior Stanislas were recovering from Monday’s Premier League defeat at Manchester City.
Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley, on loan at Watford, scored against Coventry, Kyle Walker and Joe Mattock were also on duty in the Championship.
Even Theo Walcott would have been eligible — the tournament is for players born in 1989 or later — although there was certainly no chance of the FA calling him up.
England prioritised the European U21 Championship in June, when they reached the final only to lose 4-0 to Germany.
Walcott took part but has not played a minute of competitive football since and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger suspects the side strain which has delayed his season is at least partly down to his Under 21 duties.
The Spanish FA have an agreement with their clubs to enforce the release of their best players for international tournaments but most other European nations are seriously weakened.
Football’s confused international calendar must shoulder its share of the blame but English football should ask itself questions, too.
Is a month sitting on the bench as cover, or half a dozen games in the Championship, better for a player’s development than exposure to the athleticism of African football or the technical skills of the South Americans?
Meanwhile, Eastick’s team tackle the unknown against Uzbekistan on Friday in an effort to restore some pride and find a successor to Carragher.