It’s been a busy midweek of youth international representation for young Blues, with notable achievements for at least half a dozen of the burgeoning talents as they headed away from Cobham to play for their countries. With a lot to cover, let’s dive in.
We’ll start at senior level, where Miroslav Stoch played nineteen minutes as a substitute for Slovakia, who unfortunately lost 1-0 to Norway in Zilina in a setback for their World Cup preparations. However, better news for the diminutive winger came on Monday night, when Slovakia’s Football Association hosted their annual awards night. Miro was crowned the 2009 Slovakian Under-21 Footballer of the Year, winning by a comfortable margin, almost doubling the number of votes picked up by Manchester City’s Vladimir Weiss in second place. Such has been his impact over the last twelve months, he was also nominated for the senior award (amongst an extensive ‘shortlist’ and finished a credible 10th, some way behind eventual winner Marek Hamsik. It should be noted that Hamsik won last year’s Under-21 award – maybe Miro in 2010?
There was extensive news at Under-21 level, where one player made his debut and another his first start. Gokhan Tore played the second half of Turkey’s 1-0 defeat to Slovakia on Tuesday, making his first appearance at the age of 18 (and only recently 18 to boot). On Wednesday, Conor Clifford started for the first time in Republic of Ireland Under-21 colours, and made his third appearance in total, but couldn’t help avoid a 2-1 home embarrassment against Armenia to leave Don Givens’ men still without a win in their qualifying group, and no chance of making 2011’s summer Finals in Denmark. Conor was heavily involved throughout, taking a leading role and looking lively, but was unable to prevent defeat.
It was a bad night at the office for England as well, as they suffered a first competitive home defeat under Stuart Pearce. Greece came away from Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium with a 2-1 win to threaten England’s chances of qualification, and there was involvement for two Blues. Ryan Bertrand started at left back but watched as poor defending from his defensive teammates gave the visitors two first half goals. Daniel Sturridge was introduced as an early second half substitute and went close on two occasions but couldn’t grab a goal. Michael Mancienne remained an unused substitute, whilst Jack Cork again failed to make the matchday squad despite impressive recent form.
Things look better for Italy though, as they comfortably dispatched Hungary 2-0 in Rieti to move three points closer to Wales atop Group 3. Fabio Borini played the first 68 minutes of the game and was one of the best players on the pitch, going close to a goal a few times in the first half, setting up chances and working well with Mario Balotelli, and largely being in charge of set pieces. It was a good showing in his fledging Azzurrini career, and another sign of his growing reputation. Holland look set to be in Denmark as they continued a 100% record by coming from behind to win 3-2 against Poland. Jeffrey Bruma played the full game and once again showed his class at this level, coming close to scoring before providing a 71st minute assist for Diego Biseswar. Calls in Holland for him to be included in the full national team squad for the World Cup are still rather embryonic, but performances like this one will have done his chances no harm, even if they are slim.
In the only Under-20 action of the week, Patrick van Aanholt joined up with the Dutch squad which lost to Slovenia 2-1 in Nova Gorica. The Newcastle and Coventry loanee played the duration at left back and went close to scoring.
In the Under-19 ranks, Jacob Mellis continued a fine vein of form for Noel Blake’s boys by scoring their only goal in a 1-1 draw with Holland. It means that the midfielder has scored in each of his last four appearances at Under-19 level, and he is doing all he can to impress. Fulham centre back Matthew Briggs provided the assist, playing Mellis into space before the Nottingham-born youngster slotted away with ease. Elsewhere, Gael Kakuta played as France drew 0-0 in the first of two head-to-head clashes. The two sides reconvene tonight with Kakuta expected to feature again.