Posted on Monday, 31st May 2010 by Chudi
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With representatives on either side of one UEFA U17 European Championship semi-final, someone from the United contingent at these finals was always going to end up disappointed and it was Paul Pogba who was left distraught as France bowed out at the last four stage, leaving England – and Sam Johnstone, Tom Thorpe and Will Keane – to advance to a final date with tournament favourites Spain on Sunday.
Two superbly-taken first half goals from Ipswich Town forward Connor Wickham were enough to send the Young Lions through to that final, although John Peacock’s side seriously rode their luck, particularly in a second half that saw Pogba pull a goal back and his teammates spurn a number of terrific chances to at least take the game into extra-time. The 17 year-old dominated midfield throughout, refusing to be hindered by a knee injury that required heavy strapping, and always looked the most likely catalyst for any French comeback. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t quite enough, and despite a fine tournament on an individual level, with two goals and two assists to his name, the season ends on a disappointing note for the Reds midfielder.
Emotions couldn’t have been much more contrasting for the English trio, who all had individual disappointments to cloud their obvious delight at reaching the final. Will Keane was forced off early in the first-half by an injury which threatens his participation on Sunday, while Tom Thorpe was forced to watch the full game for the bench, somewhat unfortunate to not have forced his way into the side after some unconvincing displays at the back from Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom in particular.
Sam Johnstone perhaps had the most reason to be downhearted however. Competition between the Reds keeper and Birmingham stopper Jack Butland for the number one jersey had been friendly but fierce, as Sam acknowledged in an interview with uefa.com, but as the man in possession heading into the tournament and as a practically flawless starter in the first two group games, the 17 year-old had little reason to believe he wouldn’t be restored to the starting XI for the semi-final after Butland was handed a run-out in what was essentially a dead rubber against Turkey. While he also did little wrong, it’s hard to see exactly what Butland did in that outing to oust Johnstone as first choice, and despite the obvious camaraderie between the two young custodians, it must have been galling for Sam to be relegated to the bench for no immediately apparent reason.
All that leaves us in a position where the three United youngsters have the chance to become European Champions at the weekend but may all play little or no part in the tournament’s climax, a slightly bittersweet position to be in but an exciting one nonetheless. No England men’s side has won a European title since a group including Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Chris Casper (as well as the likes of Sol Campbell and Robbie Fowler) triumphed on home soil in the 1993 U18 Euros, and the chance to end that long run of disappointment and follow in such illustrious footsteps has to be a terrific incentive. It won’t be remotely easy against a Spain side featuring brilliant Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu and tournament top scorer Paco, but here’s hoping Sam, Tom and Will can end a long and successful season on a real high.