The club football season may have ended, but whilst the World Cup looms large in the foreground, the UEFA Under-17 and Under-19 ranks are in action as well. As usual, Chelsea are well represented at the business end of things.
In Liechtenstein, Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah are with John Peacock’s England team as they seek to win the European Under-17 Championships. Many people’s favourites for the tournament, they started with a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic last week. After going 1-0 down, Everton’s Ross Barkley equalised, with McEachran adding a second and Arsenal’s Benik Afobe a third immediately afterwards. Josh was Man of the Match and was involved in everything England did going forwards, capping his performance with a sumptuous goal which you can watch here.
Chalobah, the youngest player in the tournament by almost 100 days (from Portugal’s Bruma, an apparent Chelsea target), played alongside Andre Wisdom at centre-back and was by far the more accomplished performer, doing his job well defensively and striding forward into midfield with confidence. The Blues pair both started again in Friday’s 1-0 win over Greece to seal a place in the Semi Finals, but were then given a rest on Monday night for the final group fixture with Turkey. A 2-1 win secured a final four match against France on Thursday, when both Josh and Nathaniel will be back in the team, looking to secure a maiden trophy at this level.
One age group up, meanwhile, and the Under-19 generations are competing in the Elite Round of qualifying to try and seal one of eight berths in France this July. One of the first teams to join the hosts was Croatia, who were backstopped by Matej Delač. Despite being a regular at Under-21 level and an occasional senior team squad member, Delač dropped down to give the Croatians a strong chance of making it through. Three wins from three sealed the deal, but Matej played just nineteen minutes of football. A nasty head injury inflicted whilst dealing with a free kick temporarily knocked him unconscious but despite suffering a mild concussion, he is none the worse for wear and should keep goal this summer ahead of potentially joining up with Chelsea in late August, after he turns 18.
Also heading to France are Italians Fabio Borini and Jacopo Sala, who featured in all three group matches against the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, and Russia. Captain Borini, another regular Under-21 player, grabbed the second goal in a 2-0 win over the Czechs with a finish from the edge of the area, and helped as a Mattia Destro brace secured their qualification in a 3-2 win over Northern Ireland. The Azzurrini lost their last match 3-1 to Russia as our man scored another in consolation, whilst Sala’s three appearances saw one assist in outings where he was twice replaced at half time and once with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The trio will be joined by either Jacob Mellis or Conor Clifford, who are competing for the Group 3 winner’s spot along with the Ukraine and Bosnia. England and Ireland kicked things off in Kyiv earlier today with Noel Blake’s boys taking a 1-0 victory through Dean Parrett’s free kick. However, Ireland were comfortably the better side and will hope the remainder of this week’s fixtures take them through to the finals. Mellis had a decent game in direct competition with his team-mate, as the duo shared a number of tackles, and was replaced with fifteen minutes to go.
Looking forward to the Finals, with Holland and Portugal both also confirmed, there is a chance that Jeffrey Bruma and Kaby may increase club representation but with neither featuring on the road to France, it would be unlikely. Whoever goes, full coverage of their participation will be both here at CFCnet, and on Twitter @chelseayouth.