Kaustubh Pandey has a look at the players that stood out during the U-20 World Cup semi-final that finished Italy 1-3 England
It’s not too strange to hear many fans expect a lot from an England side in an international tournament. And it is never too big a surprise to see the English falter and let many down, making progressions sound rather rare. But, the English Under 20s side has proved that it may not be a side that glues itself to a frustrating history of disappointments.
The 3-1 triumph over Italy in the U-20 FIFA World Cup wasn’t one to be underestimated, not just considering the nature of the comeback win, but also because of how the young Three Lions played. Paul Simpson’s men had enjoyed a campaign that saw them pick up wins over Argentina, South Korea, Mexico and Costa Rica and the Italians were expected to hand them the stiffest bit of competition in the tournament.
Juventus starlet Riccardo Orsolini did hand the Azzurri an early lead in the second minute, but that didn’t stop the English side from playing in the same, impressive way as they had started the game. As Alberigo Evani’s men looked happy enough to drop deep in their own half and defend what they had got, England did lack the final pass in the box to cut open the backline throughout the first-half. They created very few chances, hardly threatening Italy stopper Andrea Zaccagno.
The second half saw Italy resort to the same approach, but the English looked better and decisive going forward. The introduction of Liverpool youngster Sheyi Ojo though, changed the course of the game. The 19-year-old began to impose himself on the game, linking up with Dominic Solanke and Dominic Calvert Lewin to good effect and taking up dangerous positions down the right flank. His crosses led to the first two goals, as Solanke and Ademola Lookman were at the right place and the right time to tap the ball into the back of the net.
Solanke’s late second doubled the advantage and sealed the deal for Simpson’s men, who deserved the win thoroughly. Italy were left to mourn their lack of attacking intent, as only Orsolini and Giuseppe Panico looked to have mesmerized the English backline with their panache.
We bring to you a tactical report about the standout performers from the game at Jeonju.
The 19-year-old, who joined Everton from Charlton Athletic back in January, showed only glimpses of his ability for the Toffees, but soundly proved in the semi-final that he is the real deal.
Having started on the left, Lookman played out a rather quiet first forty-five, as Italy right-back Giuseppe Scalera was always looking to close him down and mark him out of the game. The little man from Wandsworth did make a couple of dribbles down the flank, but lacked the final pass that could have opened the Italian defense up.
Only a single instance from the first-half served as a testimony to his abilities, as he combined very well with Kyle Walker-Peters and drifted in from deep to play an early cross towards Solanke. The new Liverpool signing couldn’t reach it, but it fell to Lookman’s Everton teammate Kieran Dowell, who couldn’t put it away.
The second half though, saw Lookman get the better of Scalera and run rings around him. He got more of the ball, as Italy sat deeper and deeper and Lookman got more space to do his bit. Ojo’s introduction allowed England more control and it was his cross that allowed Lookman to find the back of the net in glorious fashion to hand England the lead.
It was during this phase that Lookman also portrayed his ability to drift into the box off the ball and get at the end of crosses.
Mandragora was one of Italy’s better players on the pitch. The 19-year-old Juventus midfielder has got this reputation for being one of the best young players in the country right now and did well to live up to that tag.
Mandragora was deployed in his usual deeper midfield position of Italy’s 4-4-2 shape and donned the armband for his side as well. Much like Scalera, Mandragora deteriorated to some extent in the second half, but enjoyed a solid first half. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Solanke themselves had first halves to forget and Mandragora’s positioning was a reason for that.
The former Genoa man marked Solanke and hardly allowed the Liverpool youngster any room to play with. He sat in front of the back four, often dropping deeper to help out the centre-back pairing of Filippo Romagna and Mauro Coppolaro when England tried pressing Italy high up the pitch or when they attempted to overload the box with numbers.
Mandragora’s composure on the ball around the back four proved vital in the first forty-five, as he did the simple things well and never looked to do anything too complicated. He circulated the ball forward in tight areas and his space finding ability stood out too.
There was only one moment in the first-half when Solanke managed to overpower his marker, outpacing Mandragora but only stinging Zaccagno from outside the box.
Another one of those Juventus starlets who were out to impress the onlookers, Orsolini didn’t disappoint anyone. The highest goal-getter of the tournament, Orsolini had scored four times before the outing at the World Cup Stadium and capped his impressive form off with a fifth.
His eye for goal and the natural goalscoring instinct proved vital in the build up to the first goal. He had to come in from the wide right area and the one-touch finish at the end of the pass inside was an exquisite one. The shot had power and placement and Freddie Woodman stood no chance of getting even the slightest of touches to it.
Orsolini’s adeptness to play on the break and counter from the right hand side of the pitch was visible throughout the first half, or before Italy ended up conceding the leveller. He was direct in his approach and was never afraid to take defenders on and beat them. There were instances in the game when he picked up very good positions, but it couldn’t materialise into anything prominent due to the team’s inability to be decisive or maybe, just because Fikayo Tomori was having a field day.
Italy’s tendency to sit deep took the shine off Orsolini’s performance in what could have been an even better showing from the man from Rotella.
While Dominic Solanke came up with a top performance, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the shift that Bournemouth youngster Lewis Cook came up with.
With England not playing the traditional sole holding midfielder in the 4-4-2, the onus of attacking and defending fell to Cook and midfield partner Ainsley Maitland Niles. The Arsenal man too had a very good game, but it was Cook’s ability to act as the non-stop engine in the heart of the park that stood out. England had little to do defensively throughout the game and Cook was at the centre of everything that happened.
He did endure a tough season at the Dean Court, but came up with a thoroughly complete showing. The English skipper was always looking to bomb forward from the deeper midfield areas, looking to take players on and circulate the ball to the likes of Lookman and Solanke. He was always there to help out his centre-halves Tomori and Jake Clarke-Salter, when they were forced into playing among themselves to deal with the occasional high-press.
He looked like more than competent midfielder in the game, coming up with a complete showing to serve as England’s driving force.
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