5 youngsters could be in action for their countiesAs many as five young Reading players could be in international action for their country at youth level on Tuesday evening in the Euro 2017 qualifiers over two age groups – two of the games could have plenty of significance, but the other two have fate sealed already.
Goalkeeper Luke Southwood was named on the bench for England’s Under-20s last night against USA, as the Young Lions wrapped up a four-nation tournament at Spotland after wins against Netherlands and Germany in their first two games.
But effectively the Under-21 fixtures for John Swift (England) and duo Jake Sheppard and Zak Jules (Scotland) are dead-rubbers.
The current international weekend saw the final round of qualifying for the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Poland next summer, and Swift was an unused substitute in Kazakhstan as a 1-0 win sealed their place in the finals tournament with a game to spare.
However he will be hoping to get a run-out for the national side in Walsall – Bosnia-Herzegovina, who currently prop up Group 9, are winless from their seven fixtures. England, undefeated in theirs, will be aiming to finish their qualifying campaign with another win at the Banks’s Stadium, and Royals midfielder Swift will be targeting a place on Aidy Boothroyd’s teamsheet for his 37th cap at youth level.
Unfortunately for Sheppard and Jules, Scotland’s game lacks significance in Group 3 because progression to the U21 finals is no longer a possibility.
Even before visiting Iceland last week – where Jules was a starter and Sheppard an unused sub in a 2-0 defeat – qualification hopes had already been ended, thanks to a battle at the top end of the table between Iceland, France and Macedonia which had left Scotland’s youngsters cut adrift.
Scotland could yet have a say, however, and prevent current surprise leaders Macedonia from qualifying automatically when they meet in Skopje on Tuesday. The hosts are ahead of Iceland just on goal-difference ahead of the final game, with France just a point behind and waiting to pounce.
There is potentially more to play for at Under-19 level, where we have lads in action for Ireland and Iceland. Josh Barrett and Axel Andresson each hit the net in the last round of fixtures, but in differing circumstances.
This international window has seen four-team round-robins taking place in a host country – and Ireland’s 1-0 win in Albania was followed up by a 5-0 triumph against Gibraltar, in which Barrett capped off the scoring in their 2017 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifier.
That result means they have already qualified for the ‘Elite Round’, which takes place in March, with a match to spare – but a win over Germany in their final Group 4 game would really turn some heads on Tuesday evening.
Iceland, however, have their work cut out if they want to salvage their hopes of reaching Georgia next summer. They have lost each of their two games so far, 2-0 against Group 13 host country Ukraine and 2-1 to Turkey at the weekend, and need to put a few past Latvia in their last game.
Centre-half Andresson was the goalscorer for the Icelanders… at the time it was an equaliser, but Turkey nicked the points in the final 10 minutes. Iceland do still have a slim chance of sneaking through if they can get an emphatic win against Latvia in their final fixture in host nation Ukraine. Their odds are fractional, though – only one country enters the Elite Round as the highest ranked third-placed team from 13 groups; three points is unlikely to suffice.