I know this blog is usually reserved for my rants, but today dear readers, you have earned yourselves a respite, as I return from a fabulous trip along the coast from our home in Spain to Portugal’s Algarve, to watch England’s under 17’s football team tale party in the 35th friendly tournament, also featuring Portugal as host nation, France, and Holland.
Now, I’m patriotic, but there were two much more important reasons why we went. Derby County were fielding two of our Under 17 rising stars, Will Hughes and Mason Bennett. Both lads have made first team appearances for the club, and it was a great to see them pulling on the National shirt.
The first game was against Portugal in the Estadio de Municipal da Bela Vista. It’s a strange place, sporting just the one stand, and seemingly located within a Portuguese housing estate. Despite the Algarve sunshine, it was decidedly chilly, as we experienced the fringe of the vicious weather blanketing much of Europe. Mason Bennett started, with Will Hughes on the bench, and to be honest, Bennett struggled to impose himself in the first half, and was replaced at half time in a double substitution that saw Will Hughes take the field. What struck me about Hughes was the accuracy of his passing, his willingness to chase the ball and his commitment in challenges, he impressed me immensely, as did the young Newcastle lad, Adam Campbell, he was a real handful.
We ran out 2-1 winners, and I particularly loved the Portuguese announcer’s different take on the goals: the Portuguese one was met with “GOOOOOOOOOOOOAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!
POR -TU -GAL, POR-TU -GAL!” -followed by some really dire euro-dance music until we were ready to re-start. When England scored he mumbled begrudgingly “goal, England” Priceless!
The one serious threat to us in that game was one of Porto’s youngsters, who regularly took killer inswinging corners that threatened to punish us, and we seemed to keep conceding.
Game number two saw us facing Holland, at the Estadio Municipal in Loulè , and I found this a really great game. Will Hughes started, and immediately involved himself in the game, hungry for the ball and unerring with his passing once again. He got his just reward, scoring for England after 13 minutes in a game which also saw some great interplay between Forest’s Kieran Wallace and Villa’s Jordan Graham. Wallace showed enough good touches to suggest that, if his first mates at the city Ground don’t start clicking, he’ll be pushing for a place. We conceded a penalty after about 18 minutes and were down to 10 men, following the fairly pointless sending -off of Callum Robinson. The team held fast though, with some resolute defending and as we headed deep into the second half we were holding the Dutch at 2-2. We were on the verge of nicking it when we had a penalty of our own, but a great save from the keeper meant the honours were even. Bennett had joined the fray at half-time and looked a lot sharper than in the first game.
The third and final game took place in the grandly named Estadio Capitano Josino Costa, in Lagoa, which was a bit of a ramshackle place, but made up for it by having the photocopied teamsheets available in colour, no less.
Mason and Will both started this one, and the team looked organised, and clearly worked hard for each other. Mason had a couple of attempts but never quite got going in my opinion, though he showed a couple of touches to suggest he has much more to offer. Once again, though, Will Hughes did some great work in midfield, tracked back well, fought for the ball and distributed it well all over the pitch. We came out worthy 2-1 winners, and won the tournament overall with 7 points, a good few days work.
It was also great to see the families of some of these lads out there supporting them, including the folks of Blades youngster George Willis, who despite the penalty, had a good game in goal against Holland.
Standout players of the tournament for me were Hughes, Newcastle’s Campbell, West Ham’s Leo Chambers, Forest’s Wallace and Villa’s Graham.
Whatever goes wrong further up the ladder with our national team, on this viewing, John Peacock and his staff are doing a sterling job with this current crop of talented youngsters.
To see two Derby lads in this team filled me with pride, as did the sight of the whole squad singing the National Anthem.
606ers please note: Particularly gratifying was the further “anglification and ramification” of Mrs. MojacaRam, as she shouted for the English over her own French team, with the singularly bizarre cry of ‘allez Mason’! My work here is done.