In June, Ben Piggott ran the rule over the fortunes of Football League players in that month’s European Under-21 Championship, with Aron Gunnarsson and Mikkel Andersen in particular enjoying less than fruitful campaigns. Now, the man behind the illustrations that adorn this website turns his attention to the recent Under-20 World Cup, a tournanment that has been covered expertly by Two Hundred Percent and ended up with a somewhat Lusophone finale:
The traditional Hispano-Iberian hegemony was reasserted at this year’s World Youth Cup, with Mexico, Brazil and Portugal consigning Ghana’s 2009 triumph to the history books by parking up in three of the semi-final spots. The other slot was taken by France, whose erstwhile Derby houseguest Gilles Sunu was the only member of the final four to have pottered around below the Premier League.
Unlike France themselves, Sunu started off in fine nick, getting the consolation in a 4-1 loss to Colombia with a diddle-and-lash
that found its way onto the Goal of the Tournament shortlist. Elsewhere Jonathan Wilson’s heirs apparent
Spain found their procession halted by eventual winners Brazil and player of the tournament Henrique. The Sà£o Paulo striker had a hand in both goals in an ill-deserved 2-2 draw before scraping it on penalties. But enough of these majestic future luxuries. How did the terrified try-hards get on? What of England’s fine crop of lower-league hopefuls?
Well England were duff; let it be said right away. They dragged themselves into the second round due to the competition’s generous qualification scheme (six groups send forth winners, runners-up and four third placed teams) and went out without scoring a goal in four games.
It’s worth noting that they only conceded a single goal as well, a clipped cross and strong finish by Edafe Egbedi in the 0-1 knockout defeat to Nigeria. This stern defensive record was thanks in no small part to Birmingham’s Jack Butland, whose saves carried them through the group stage. Butland came to the fore against Argentina, throwing a crowded drive from Gomez around the top of his right-hand post. He continued to excel against Mexico, saving a Taufic Guarch penalty early doors and denying the magnificently named striker again on the half hour. A losing cause didn’t deter him as England sloped out against the Flying Eagles, and he was still at it in the dying moments, keeping out a Ramà³n Azeez curler and sprawling to turn away the much fancied Uche Nwofor, sealing his place as England’s player of the tournament.
Of his colleagues, Blackpool’s Matt Phillips toiled in the engine room for all 360 minutes. He took matters into his own hands against Nigeria but ended the tournament as he’d started it, slapping the final chance over the bar, having also exchanged wasted chances with Billy Knott in the tone-setting opener against North Korea.
Villa’s Nathan Baker
, who showed up well at Sincil Bank in the 2009/10 season was another regular, and the only other England players to represent the depths were also recent loanees from big clubs. Despite turning out 26 times for England at various levels, Dean Parrett
still hasn’t managed to represent Spurs in the league yet. Instead he’s been touring the lower reaches, turning out for Aldershot, Plymouth and Charlton in successive seasons. He was used sparingly in this tournament, and after trotting on in the second half against Korea, his contribution was restricted to one booming cross against the Mexicans, from which West Brom’s Saido Berahino forced a save with a left-footed volley. Likewise, Everton’s rated scuttler James Wallace had only the one moment of class to remember. Wallace was getting good notices from TTU blogger Scarf
in the build-up, having ‘bossed’ in a poor Stockport side last season but was also kept back as a sub here. His wonderful long ball (that’s more like it, kids!) to find the ever-available Berahino against Argentina was quality and given his club’s current situation, he should be following Ross Barkley into the first team soon.
The only other lower-division players were from the Antipodes. Sheffield United’s Marc Warren and Birmingham’s Luke Rowe, who turned out for Australia and New Zealand respectively. Rowe shared the pitch with Bradford’s James Musa and was part of a solid but unrewarded defence who slipped out to arch-grinders Portugal in a group which yielded only seven goals. Warren had a bit more fun, shipping five to Spain, and three to the similarly poor Costa Rica, two of which were bagged by Arsenal’s stellar summer signing Joel Campbell. This all came after a decent 1-1 draw with Ecuador, which the Aussies could even have won had Warren’s close angled header not been clawed away after fourteen minutes.
So the game-changing conclusion is that you need to buy up all the Brazilians and Spanish kids, right? That’s what the internet’s for: the dissemination of carefully compiled knowledge to those who’d never have worked it out on their own.