Comeback gives hope
England may have been outpassed by Chile but they showed great strength to earn a 1-1 draw and keep their FIFA U-20 World Cup hopes alive. Adam Bate saw few signs of the St George's Park coaching revolution but could not fault the strength of character shown by the players.
Last Updated: 27/06/13 9:12am
It is more than 16 years since England won a match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Michael Owen scored the only goal of the game against Mexico for a team that also included the likes of Jamie Carragher, Danny Murphy and Kieron Dyer. The wait goes on after a 1-1 draw with Chile in Antalya on Wednesday but there were some positives to take from England's second-half comeback and victory over Egypt at the weekend will see the side reach the knockout stages of the tournament.
Young Lions coach Peter Taylor had predicted a stronger showing after the disappointment of letting a two-goal lead slip against Iraq in the opening group game. "The boys have shut down from their season and then all of sudden they've got to go again," he had claimed at Tuesday's pre-match press conference. "We'd only had one warm-up game against Uruguay. So I feel the first match, fitness-wise, was always going to be the most difficult."
After the game, he felt vindicated. Harry Kane's second-half strike had cancelled out a Nicolas Castillo penalty controversially awarded for a foul by Daniel Potts on Angelo Henriquez. "I am very pleased that we recovered and got at least a draw," said Taylor. "Chile are a very good team and a difficult team to stop. But overall I felt we created some very good chances and I was very pleased with our fitness. Compared to the first match our fitness was very good."
In truth, a draw did not look likely for long periods of the first half. Ball retention was always going to be important in the Turkish sun and England were comprehensively outpassed as Chile enjoyed 61 per cent of possession in the opening 45 minutes. While Cesar Fuentes and Bryan Rabello controlled the game in the centre of the pitch, England preferred to focus on the old favourites - channel balls, crosses from deep and the uninspiring sight of the centre-backs lurching up for free-kicks awarded somewhere in the vicinity of the halfway line.
But for all that, the clearer openings did come England's way with Kane spurning two good chances after clever work by the impressive Ross Barkley. Taylor added: "I was disappointed to be 1-0 down but I still thought we had two very good chances where Harry Kane could have scored in the first-half. It was a just a case of keeping going and having that little bit of end product. We had some fresh legs in the second-half who came on and did very well."
Indeed, the introduction of Manchester United's Larnell Cole and Tottenham attacking midfielder Alex Pritchard in the wide positions played its part in sparking England to a strong finish - with the two players combining to fashion a fine chance for the winner. By that point, the team had already found an equaliser when Kane finished well following a typically dynamic run from Barkley. As shade fell over the pitch, England's athletes began to overpower their ball-playing opponents with Chile coach Mario Salas helpless to prevent the swing in fortunes.
"We feel a little bit strange," Salas admitted afterwards. "In the first half it was very good. In the second half, after they scored, England raised their game to a much higher level. It was very difficult for us in the second half. A 1-1 draw was a fair result because the first-half belonged to Chile and the second half to England." He added: "England were so strong and were getting stronger all the time. We tried to change it by refreshing the midfield and keeping hold of the ball in the England half. We were the protagonists - the team that always wanted the ball."
He was right in that respect. Anybody hoping to see conclusive evidence of Trevor Brooking's 10-year plan to change England's football philosophy would surely have been disappointed. Despite some talented players, this remains an unmistakably English-style side. And yet, curiously, it is also one that still appears to have the identity crisis identified by Rio Ferdinand earlier this month. Frequently the goalkeeper would roll the ball out to the centre-back and passes would be exchanged before it was finally launched forwards. Neither one thing nor the other, it is all risk and no reward.
It is an approach that places huge emphasis on Kane, the only natural target man in the squad. And after completing 180 minutes of football in 72 hours, he is feeling the strain. "I am starting to feel it," he told Sky Sports after the game. "It is hard work out here but we are all working our socks off. We created more space today, which meant we had enough chances to win the game. It wasn't meant to be, but that's football. Both games we feel we could have won but if we all play to our capabilities then we should have more than enough to beat Egypt and get the win we need."
Given that Iraq were deserved winners against a poor and pointless Egypt side later on Wednesday evening, the optimism appears to be justified and Taylor shares that sentiment. "It's another difficult type of match," added the coach. "But if we play the way we did against Chile then we'll create some chances." It is far from a revolution but there is a sense that England are at least nearing that long overdue win at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.