Young Lions heading to Poland next summer!A 1-0 win for John Swift’s England Under-21s on Thursday afternoon in Atkobe, against hosts Kazakhstan, has ensured that the Young Lions will be heading to Poland next summer for the Under-21 European Championships!
An early goal by Demarai Gray - who converted Nathan Redmond’s low cross at the near post - gave England three more points in Group 9, putting them beyond the reach of second-placed Switzerland with a game to spare.
Swift, who has been voted as the Royals’ Player of the Month for both August and September since joining in the summer, was an unused sub on the afternoon in a partisan atmosphere in Kazakhstan. The Reading midfielder started in games home and away against Switzerland during the qualifiers… he was also due to link up with the team ahead of September’s group game with Norway, but a slight hamstring injury resulted in him remaining in Berkshire.
But now our midfield maestro will be aiming to book a place on the plane to Poland for next summer’s tournament as part of the final selection. He is one of six Royals who are currently on duty with their countries at youth level.
Aidy Boothroyd took charge of England’s penultimate qualifier, stepping in for regular U21 coach Gareth Southgate – who is now on duty with the senior squad.
And the former Watford gaffer named Swift in his 18-man squad as a substitute. And the game was just seven minutes old when the deadlock was broken as Saints winger Redmord squared for Leicester forward Gray, who prodded past Stanislav Pavlov for the opener.
While England dominated the ball and the chances, the game was always on a knife-edge while the hosts were within a goal in a volatile environment. Yerkebulan Tunggyshbayev had the pick of Kazakhstan’s sparse chances in the first period, only to be denied by a Brendan Galloway block.
England came close to a second in the first period when Redmond had a half-volley deflected inches wide. Gray had two good opportunities after half-time, skewing one wide and forcing a good save from Pavlov with the other.
Mason Holgate came as close as anyone – albeit accidentally, when his inswinging cross dropped onto the crossbar, and moments later Ruben Loftus-Cheek wasn’t about to outfox the goalkeeper when he was played in one-on-one – the stopper stayed big.
Not that any of that mattered at the final whistle; Gray’s goal was enough to spark celebrations amongst Swift and his international teammates, as they can begin to look ahead to next summer’s 12-nation tournament in central Europe.
Swift has an opportunity to be involved for England’s final group game on Tuesday, when they’ll be aiming to maintain a lossless campaign when they host Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Banks’s Stadium in Walsall in a 3pm kick-off.
Well done to all involved for claiming a place at the Under-21 European Championships!