Southgate: U21s on the up

Gareth Southgate believes the momentum gained from England Under-21s’ last two games of Euro qualifying and their last year together can be carried into next month’s play-offs.

The Three Lions ended the group stage with nine wins from 10 games on Tuesday night, when a brace from Saido Berahino and a goal from Harry Kane sealed a 3-0 victory in Moldova.

That came on the back of last Friday’s success against Lithuania as Southgate’s squad ended their campaign in style, despite having already sealed top spot as long ago as May.

Moldova 0-3 England

2015 UEFA Euro U21 Championship
Qualifying Group 1
Sheriff Stadium, Tiraspol
Tuesday 9 September 2014

All eyes turn to Nyon on Friday, when the draw for the play-offs will be made by UEFA, with seven nations going on to next summer’s finals in Czech Republic.

“The win gives us the momentum we wanted going into the play-offs,” said Southgate, who made five changes to his side for the match in Tiraspol.

“The performance was really good, importantly, and we’ve shown that we have real depth in the squad and competition for places.

“That is so important because we have a few weeks until the play-offs and a lot can happen in that time with the players at their clubs.

“But it’s also important for the spirit and the bond that is growing between them.

“They all deserve the opportunity to go on to the Finals, but we have to achieve that next month.”

Saido Berahino controls the ball

Saido Berahino was in fine form for England

Moldova started the evening second in the group behind England and were yet to concede a goal at home, so there was always going to be pressure on the visitors.

But Southgate was pleased with the way his players dealt with that, by creating a number of clear chances throughout.

“We knew before the match that we had to be very accurate with the way we pressed the ball and we had to be alert defensively,” he added.

“They have some technically good players, but we know when we have the ball that we are a dangerous side.

“I’m really pleased because Moldova hadn’t conceded a goal when they have played at home this season, so to create the chances that we did was really pleasing for us.

“Saido is reaping the rewards for his hard work. I know he came back early to work with his own fitness coach during the summer”

Gareth Southgate 

“We’re focusing on performance and how it can improve, so if we keep performing and improving as we are, as individuals and a team, we will progress.

“The results breed confidence, but also because of this summer in Toulon, we know that we’re a good side. 

“But we’ve got to prove ourselves yet against the best teams.

“They’re not the sort of group to get complacent, they work incredibly hard to get to the level that they want to be in their career, but the potential is really exciting.”

One man who perhaps epitomises that attitude under Southgate is top scorer Berahino.

The West Bromwich Albion forward scored the first goal of Southgate’s reign, coincidentally against Moldova last September, and finished the group stage with eight goals in as many games.

And Southgate says he has been impressed with the 21-year-old’s form as England prepare for the next stage of qualification.

“I think he’s reaping the rewards for his hard work, as I know he came back early to work with his own fitness coach during the summer,” revealed Southgate.

“We’ve been talking about what elite sportsmen act like, with their behaviours and their habits and the rewards that you get if your approach is as good as his has been this summer.

“He gave us a different threat and new options tonight, he plays in that position with his club but with Harry [Kane] in the side as well, that’s a real goal threat and it was exciting to see.”