Whilst the majority of media and public attention has been on England’s qualification for the World Cup finals, understandably so, it was the earlier performance of Gareth Southgate’s Young Lions that gave me the most satisfaction and cause for supreme optimism.
A more than decent crowd at Ipswich’s Portman Road was simply mesmerised by the young English attacking talent on display as Ravel Morrison, Wilfried Zaha, Saido Berahino and Tom Ince turned on the style and left the Lithuanian defence in a daze.
Southgate’s Fab Four showed more tricks than Dynamo and, as one commentator remarked, ‘it was like an exhibition match at times’. If ever there was a football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, this was it.
At times during a 5-0 win that could easily have been ten-zip, it felt like Morrison, Zaha, Berahino and Ince were enthusiastically engaged in a personal battle to excite the crowd and bamboozle Lithuanian opponents who, literally, didn’t know which way to turn.
Yes, there were times when Southgate’s skill merchants tried one trick too many as their confidence soared, but it was a delight to watch and all emerged with flying colours. Two-goal Morrison, in particular, enhanced his burgeoning reputation and one reporter’s description of ‘bad boy to poster boy’ was just about spot on.
Typically, the ever-sensible Southgate was reluctant to indulge in massive praise of individuals (although he did concede Morrison was ‘excellent’), preferring to maintain focus on the team performance. “We were lovely to watch and I am proud to be in charge of a group of players that can perform like that,” he commented.
I’m not sure how much Roy Hodgson would have seen of the Under 21s’ master class – he might have had his mind on other things! – but no doubt he will be as excited as me when he watches re-runs of potential England stars of the future strutting their stuff.
Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Andros Townsend, of course, have put down markers with Rio 2014 now firmly in mind, but they will be looking over their shoulders at the impressive international progress of the likes of Morrison, Zaha, Berahino and Ince.
Who said there’s a shortage of young English talent rising to the top?