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Where does England’s U23 XI rank against France, Germany, Italy and Spain? Clue: not that high Featured

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Published in Football
Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:21

We asked our European offices to compile their strongest under-23 XIs – and the results are rather upsetting for England.

It’s the international week, so what better time to feel miserable (or uplifted, depending on your allegiance) about England’s prospects beyond the 2018 World Cup?

Our European experts in France, Germany, Italy and Spain have compiled their strongest national teams, with one caveat: all players must be aged 23 or under. The results are below...

ENGLAND

At risk of upsetting every single Manchester United fan, there is no place for Marcus Rashford. Our logic: he’s a striker, there’s only one spot available and Harry Kane is far superior. The trio behind Kane – Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Ross Barkley – are far more suited to attacking midfield and can float around more intelligently.

It’s a rather ominous tale in defence, with Calum Chambers (outclassed against San Marino in 2014), Joe Gomez (only just returned from a year-long injury), John Stones (responsible for most of Manchester City’s errors) and Luke Shaw (out of favour at United). Roll on Euro 2020...
England U23 team: Jordan Pickford (Sunderland); Calum Chambers (Middlesbrough), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), John Stones (Man City), Luke Shaw (Man Utd); Eric Dier (Tottenham), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal); Raheem Sterling (Man City), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton); Harry Kane (Tottenham).

Rating: 6/10.

FRANCE

Prepare to be depressed, England fans.

This French U23 team could feasibly challenge for the 2018 World Cup on their own. Monaco newcomers Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Benjamin Mendy may only have one cap between them, but their exploits in Ligue 1 and the Champions League puts their combined price tag comfortably beyond €100 million. Throw in a Clasico defensive partnership of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti and it’s quite clear that France are set to take down global football. The days of Olivier Giroud are over.
Rating: 10/10.

Oh, and just to rub it in, the French decided to submit a ‘reserve’ team containing Monaco lynchpin Tiemoue Bakayoko, football’s most decorated youngster Kingsley Coman, and Celtic striking sensation Moussa Dembele. Leave us alone.

GERMANY

England can look at the German attack and think ‘yep, we’ve got you matched’. The Sterling-Alli-Barkley axis may be slightly inferior to Draxler-Goretzka-Sane, but Kane is a superior striker to Timo Werner.

That’s where the joy ends, though.

Joshua Kimmich will soon welcome Niklas Sule to Bayern Munich, with the 21-year-old poised to switch to the German giants in 2017, while Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Henrichs have established themselves in the Bayer Leverkusen defence. Still, it’s hard to not view this outfit with surprise – it is not as strong as previous incarnations.

ITALY

He may only have two caps, but Gianluigi Donnarumma is already predicted to rival Gianluigi Buffon’s haul of 167 (and counting). The 18-year-old – yep, really – has established himself as AC Milan’s number one and should have fine protection with club team-mate Alessio Romagnoli and Juventus’ Daniele Rugani, both fine talents, in front of him.

Less is known about their attack, with their current squad containing players aged 24 and over, but all the good Italian outfits have been built on defence and the latest crop shows no sign of breaking that tradition.

SPAIN

Spain are building their young army on their own shores… with one exception: Hector Bellerin. However, the Arsenal man may not be in the Premier League for long, as Wednesday’s Euro Papers explains (below).

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  • Harry Kane's hot streak continues as England win in Lithuania

    LFF Stadium, World Cup qualifying Group F - Lithuania 0 England 1 (Kane pen 27')

    Harry Kane’s hot streak continued as he scored the winner in England’s 1-0 victory over Lithuania in their final qualifying match ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
    Having already won Group F after a 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Thursday, manager Gareth Southgate made seven changes to his team, handing Harry Winks and Harry Maguire debuts in a 3-4-3 formation for the match in Vilnius.

    In a disjointed performance, Dele Alli, back in the side after suspension, won a first-half penalty when he was felled by Ovidijus Verbackas. His Tottenham team-mate Kane duly dispatched the spot-kick for his 15th goal in his last 10 matches for club and country.

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    Tottenham’s Winks was denied a goal on his debut when his shot was well saved by Ernestas Setkus, but it was Lithuania – who won only once in Group F – who threatened most; Jack Butland was forced into a good stop as Keane almost inadvertently sent the ball into his own net, while Deivydas Matulevicius spurned a late opportunity.
    Once again England did just enough to record the three points - they are now unbeaten in their last four campaigns in qualifying for major tournaments - but it was another unimaginative and unconvincing display from Southgate’s side.

    TALKING POINT

    3-4-3 isn't the answer for insipid England: Southgate opted for an experimental 3-4-3 formation, and while England’s front-three, Marcus Rashford, Alli and Kane, linked-up well, at times in the first half, the showing after the restart was incredibly flat and one-paced.

    There was at least some cause for optimism as the performance of debutant Winks in the centre of the park indicated the Spurs playmaker may have a role to play in Russia, while Harry Maguire, also making his debut, looked OK in defence.
    But all-in-all, it was simply not good enough. Southgate should probably go back to basics for the home friendlies against Brazil and Germany in November.

    MAN OF THE MATCH

    Marcus Rashford (England) - The Manchester United youngster was at nowhere near his brilliant best, but was probably England's stand-out player in the first half and looked most likely to make things happen.

    PLAYER RATINGS

    Lithuania: Setkus 7, Andriuskevicius 5, Klimavicius 5, Girdvainis 5, Borovskij 5, Zulpa 5, Slivka 5, Verbickas 4, Cernych 5, Novikovas 5, Sernas 6. Subs: Matulevicius 5,

    England: Butland 6, Keane 6, Maguire 7, Stones 6, Trippier 6, Winks 7, Henderson 5, Cresswell 7, Alli 7, Kane 7, Rashford 7. Subs: Sturridge 6, Lingard 6.

    KEY MOMENTS

    11’ - THE HOSTS SHOULD BE AHEAD! Sernas peels away from Maguire at the back post as a cross comes in, but somehow slices his first-time effort wide of the goal from inside the box. A let off for England!

    24’ - KEANE GOES CLOSE! Lithuania fail to clear Cresswell's deep free-kick, and the ball eventually sits up nicely for Keane just inside the box, but the Everton defender screws his first-time volley wide of the goal. That is the closest England have come.

    26’ - PENALTY TO ENGLAND! Alli is brought down inside the box by Verbickas, and the referee has no choice other than to point to the spot. This is the perfect chance for Kane to put the visitors ahead...
    27’ - GOAL - KANE SCORES! A superb penalty from England's talisman as he sends the ball into the bottom left corner. The goalkeeper dived the right way but couldn't get near it.

    52’ – CHANCE FOR WINKS! Setkus isn't at all convincing as he punches Cresswell's dangerous cross right into the path of Winks, but he makes amends with a smart save from the Tottenham playmaker's shot. Almost a debut goal for Winks.

    54’ - CHANCE FOR LITHUANIA! A dangerous low ball into the England box causes Keane all sorts of problems, and in an effort to concede a corner he almost inadvertently sends it into his own net! He is bailed out by Butland who makes a good reactive save.

    83’ - GREAT CHANCE TO EQUALISE! Matulevicius is released behind the England defence and the ball sits up perfectly for him, but his half-volley is struck straight at Butland who gathers on the second attempt. Either side of him and it was a goal.

    KEY STATS

    Harry Kane has scored 15 goals in his last 10 matches in all competitions for club and country.
    Of the 43 goals that Harry Kane has scored for club and country in 2017, only four have been penalties.
    A Spurs player has been directly involved in nine of England's last 11 goals across all competitions.
    England end their Group F programme with eight clean sheets in 10 matches.
    England have won all four of their previous encounters with Lithuania on the international stage, scoring 10 and conceding none in the process.

  • Gerard Pique is one of Spain’s great patriots, his treatment by mob of hate is a national disgrace

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    "As a player, your dream is to play in the national shirt and defend it against the world."
    The words of the imperious Gerard Pique, then only 23, prior to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, a tournament that would see Spain finally end their long wait to win football's loftiest prize.

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    He is a 91-times capped defender, who has given his lot to Barcelona and Spain. And even now he suggests he won’t slip quietly out the back door when some would see him burned at the stake for stating an honest opinion.

    The British number one tennis player Andy Murray once declared himself a supporter of Scottish Independence on the eve of the 2014 referendum, but he never felt less British when he lifted his second Wimbledon title in 2016.
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  • Harry Kane sends England to Russia World Cup with stoppage-time winner

    World Cup Qualifier, Wembley – England 1 (Harry Kane 94’) Slovenia 0

    Harry Kane struck at the death as England booked their place at the 2018 World Cup finals despite an underwhelming display in a 1-0 win over Slovenia at Wembley.

    Gareth Southgate's side knew their fate was in their own hands, but laboured for long spells until Kane pounced in stoppage time to claim his 14th goal in his last nine matches for club and country.
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    Marcus Rashford (England). The Manchester United starlet is the go-to man when it come to looking for a spark in this England side. Could and perhaps should have scored in the second half, but most of England's good moments came through him on the left until Kane stole the headlines in the 94th minute. Rashford turns 20 later this month and seems a shoe-in for a starting berth in Russia next summer.
    PLAYER RATINGS

    ENGLAND: Hart 8, Walker 7, Bertrand 7, Stones 7, Cahill 7, Henderson 6, Dier 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Sterling 6, Rashford 8, Kane 6. Subs: Lingard 6, Keane n/a.

    SLOVENIA: Oblak 7, Struna 6, Mevlja 6, Cesar 6, Jokic 6, Rotman 6, Krhin 6, Bezjak 6, Ilicic 7, Verbic 6, Sporar 6. Subs: Birsa 7, Repas 6, Matavz 7.

    Matchcast: Full match stats and commentary


    9' - PENALTY SHOUT! Josip Ilicic makes a clever dart to the right of the penalty area and is rewarded with a corner as Hart came to block. The Slovenian looks at the referee quizzically. Replays show the keeper didn't get the ball and appeared to catch the forward's heel. Let off for England?

    45+1' - ENGLAND CHANCE. Rashford tries to catch Oblak out with a low free kick towards the near post, but the keeper is alert to the danger and pushes it wide.

    63' - ENGLAND CHANCE. England break from a Slovenia corner. Sterling leads the charge and lays it into the path of Rashford who goes for the lob over the advancing keeper but sees it hacked clear inside the six-yard box.

    69' - ENGLAND CHANCE. Rashford causes problems on the left once more. He finds Sterling, who sees his shot blocked before Kane flashes the follow-up just past the far post.
    85' - SLOVENIA CHANCE. Hart comes out to bravely save at the feet of Tim Matavz after the Slovenia striker was sent clear. The keeper then saves the follow-up. Replays showing it should have been flagged offside - but Hart didn't know that.

    90+4' - GOAL! ENGLAND 1-0 SLOVENIA. Kane lifts the mood inside Wembley as he slides home Walker's cross after the full back had seized upon Oblak's over-anxious early throw out. England are heading to Russia!

    KEY STATS

    England have lost just one of their last 19 matches at home, and none in the last eight, winning eight and drawing one.

    England qualify for World Cup for 6th successive time, equalling their record. They also participated in six in a row from 1950 to 1970.

    Kane's previous international home goal was on 22 May 2016, in England's 2-1 friendly win against Turkey at Etihad Stadium.

  • Alvaro Morata withdraws from Spain squad with hamstring injury

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  • Dele Alli banned for one game by FIFA for middle-finger gesture

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