A really nice and enthusiastic young crowd at the Proact Stadium in Chesterfield for the second semi-final of the UEFA u17s tournament between World Champions England, and undefeated Netherlands. Both playing their 5th match in 12 days with the Three Young Lions having had an extra day's rest after their quarter final win over Norway in Burton upon Trent.
A year ago in Croatia England were 1-0 up on Spain in the final until a last minute headed equalizer from a corner and then lost on pks to the Spaniards, but a few weeks later won the World Cup in grand style.
Earlier in the day I had been in Rotherham at the New York Stadium to surprisingly see a very attack minded Giovane Azzuri beat Belgium 2-1. A school afternoon with dozens of buses bringing about 2,000 children to add to the 500 or so prawn sandwich brigade in the main stand. The kids, many in yellow high viz jackets chanted for eiher Italy or the Belgians. A great atmosphere.
I have been amused at all these matches how 20 size 5 balls are lined up and kicked or thrown into the crowd by the players. Hopefully most ended up in the hands of the kids, who of course play with size 3 or 4 balls. Matbe a lot more size 1 mini balls instead would have been a better idea? Is anybody listening?
In Chesterfield 8,000 fans poured into the stadium, which seats just over 10,000. The next day Chesterfield FC were up before The FA for some dodgy dealings. Their former CEO Chris Turner owned an academy across the road which he charged big prices to bring in foreign youth players as a private enterprise and which is now closed. The club is accused of using his business to illegally pay a couple of senior club players.
The Netherlands had advanced in the quarter final against the Republic of Ireland when a questionable call by the Czech referee had seen the final Dutch penalty retaken after a 2nd yellow and red card to 16 year old gk Jimmy Corcoran of Cherry Orchard FC and Daishwan Redan of Chelsea had retaken the kick and scored.
The referee was later disciplined for being inconsistent and not penalizing Joey Koorevaar of Feyenoord for the same thing. Corcoran, who due to his youth, is eligible for next year's tournament in Ireland BUT has a one match suspension hanging over him for TWELVE MONTHS. UEFA stupidity Martin O'Neil who had left the stands to admonish the referee on the pitch was not handed any UEFA penalty.
A fast and furious start and in the 2nd minute Young Lions goalie Luca Ashby-Hammond of Fulham FC was injured in a goalmouth tussle. England had 2 players suspended for yellow cards and one injured and sent home. 6 matches to play in the final is quite a lot. At the same time in Southern Lithuania in Alytus and Mariyampolis the 8 team womens UEFA u17s is taking place in only 2 small stadiums. Germany beat England 8-0 and Spain beat Finland 1-0 in yesterdays's semi finals.. In a couple of months the UEFA u19 mens tournamen,t with England the reigning champions, is also only 8 teams and is in the two West Coast Finnish towns of Kokola and Vasaa.
Half time in Chesterfield was 0-0 with England hitting the post and a near miss late on. It was anybodies match with 40 minutes to go. Both defences held out with some great saves by both keepers. England lacked the flair and creativity of a year ago and there were tired legs on both sides, and neither knew how to create space up front.
So we went to penalties, The Netherlands for the second tome in as many matches. They each traded five goals apeice with gk Ashby-Hammand scoring the fourth past his opposite number. Netherlands made it 6-5 and up comes Folarin Balogun of Arsenal whose attempt is brilliantly saved by Joey Koorevaar who dived to the right. So the Dutch go into their 3rd title at this age group in Rotherham on Sunday evening.
According to Dutch coach Kees van Wonderen," It was a game we suspected it would be. Not a tacttical game, a fighting game. It is enormous for the lads to play England in England. Tonight we are the luckier team of the two but the happiest."
England coach Steve Cooper." It was a really good game, two good teams. Congratulations to the Netherlands. They had a brighter start but we soon settled down. Its our 5th game and we were missing players and it could have gone either way, and so can penalties."