England U21 3 – 1 Czech R U21

Anthony Gordon and Folarin Balogun both scored on their first England U21 starts as the Young Lions saw off the Czech Republic U21s 3-1 in Euro 2023 qualifying at Turf Moor.

Everton striker Gordon had only received his first U21 call-up last week, but immediately repaid Lee Carsley’s faith for including him in the starting XI, quickly making his mark on his debut. Within five minutes, his strike was helped into the net by Filip Kaloc’s leg (4).

While some may have debated whether it was an own goal or not, there was no denying the second was Gordon’s for the taking as he turned home from Conor Gallagher’s saved shot (11).

Folarin Balogun was also making his first U21s start – replacing the suspended Rhian Brewster – and nabbed his maiden goal as he turned home from Jacob Ramsey’s wonderful through ball (30).

The Czech Republic had just one shot on target and it came from the penalty spot. Luke Thomas clipped Adam Karabec inside the area, with the midfielder dispatching the spot-kick himself. However, it did little to inspire a Czech comeback as England saw out a quiet second half for a vital three points.

The Young Lions move up to second in Group G of the U21 European Championship Qualifiers, cutting the Czech Republic’s lead to two points. However, England do have a game in hand as the campaign continues.

England see off Czechs to close qualifying gap

Folarin Balogun celebrates with team-mate Conor Gallagher after scoring for England U21's
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Folarin Balogun celebrates with team-mate Conor Gallagher after scoring his first England U21s goal

It was an incredible start from both England and Gordon. The Young Lions capitalised on their early pressure and Gordon was slotted in down the left flank. He found himself some space to strike, with the ball helped into the back of the net by Czech captain Kaloc’s outstretched leg.

Seven minutes later and the young Everton striker doubled his tally. Adam Gabriel’s poor pass was easily collected by Balogun, sending Gallagher through down the right. His own shot was well saved by Czech goalkeeper Matej Kovar, but Gordon was lurking at the back post to tap home into an empty net.

England player ratings

England U21s: Bursik (5), Aarons (6), Guehi (7), Harwood-Bellis (7), Thomas (6), Skipp (7), Ramsey (8), Gallagher (8), Gordon (8), Balogun (8), Palmer (8).

Subs used: Gomes (6), Gibbs-White (6), Cresswell (n/a).

Man of the match: Anthony Gordon.

As with any game, the pace soon began to level out, but England continued to see the better of the chances and overall play. Jacob Ramsey’s effort from range just lifted over the crossbar, before Cole Palmer’s thunderous drive forced a good save from Kovar.

The Czech Republic were punished once again for their poor play as England scored their third. Ramsey easily dispossessed Tomas Cvancara in midfield before slotting both Balogun and Gallagher through down the right, with the Arsenal striker the first to have the ball under his control before striking into the far corner.

Team news

  • Everton’s Anthony Gordon, only recently called up from the England U20 side, made his U21 debut at Turf Moor with his first start.
  • Wolves’ Morgan Gibbs-White returned to international action on the bench, while Emile Smith Rowe was called up to the senior side for the November internationals.
  • As confirmed by Lee Carsley earlier this week, Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun made his first U21 start with Rhian Brewster suspended.

But the visitors began to show their teeth as the half drew to a close, pulling a goal back from the penalty spot. Luke Thomas was penalised for a trip on Karabec and the Czech midfielder took the spot-kick himself, chipping the ball over Josef Bursik. With the last kick of the half, Martin Vitik almost nodded home from a Karabec free-kick, but the effort lifted over the crossbar.

It was a much quieter second half, with England seeing a few chances fall their way. Early on, a wonderful long ball from Taylor Harwood-Bellis picked out Gordon down the left. He cut into the area, but his strike forced a strong save from Kovar. Soon after, both Palmer and Ramsey fired just wide with good efforts.

However, it was a sad end to a wonderful performance from Palmer as he limped off clutching his hamstring in the 73rd minute. Carlsey said after the game: “Cole is fine, there’s a bit of stiffness in his hamstring so we’ll monitor him and make sure he’s well looked after.”

There was a minor late rally from the Czech Republic, but England saw out the game rather comfortably as they boosted their chances of reaching the U21 Euros in 2023.

Man of the match – Anthony Gordon

Anthony Gordon scored twice for England U21s on his debut
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Anthony Gordon celebrates after scoring the opener for England

Former England goalkeeper Rob Green on Sky Sports co-commentary:

“On his debut, it was something a little bit special that Gordon could only dream of. It is something he will remember for the rest of his career, scoring on his debut and he looked a real threat.

“We talked about Cole Palmer in the build-up, but he’s stolen the show tonight.”

England reaction – Carsley, Gordon and Balogun

Folarin Balogun fires home the third goal for England
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Folarin Balogun fired home the third goal for England

England U21 head coach Lee Carsley told Sky Sports: “I thought we started off really well… Anthony was very difficult to play against tonight and a lot of them took their club form into the start of the game.

“Conceding that goal just before half-time was a bit of a blow, but we can always improve.

“We had a big emphasis on making sure we took advantage of playing at home, especially with the crowd as well… I’m glad they put on a performance and sent the crowd home knowing that we’ve got some good players for the future.

“It wasn’t pretty at times, especially in the second half. It got a bit scrappy and we played a little bit longer than I would have liked. But we found a way to stay in the game and ultimately the three points are key.

“It’s brilliant for the lads, they deserve it as well. They’re a really good group to work with and we’re very lucky.

“We spoke before the game about how many players we’ve got missing. I want the squad to be difficult to get into because ultimately, like Emile, we want them to push the seniors and get into that squad as well.”

England U21 Group G

Man of the match Anthony Gordon told Sky Sports: “It was a really good game. I was happy to score, we started really well and then eased off. I loved it.

“I’m claiming that [the opening goal] all the way! The second one was clear cut. Conor did really well, I just had to tap it in – easy.

“We planned to press them like we did. We knew they wouldn’t be able to play if we pressed them like that. It’s a credit to us that we played the way we trained and it paid off.

“We knew this was a big game because they hadn’t lost or even conceded a goal, so to put in a performance like that and to go 3-0 up so early, it shows how good we are when we’re on it.”

England U21 goalscorer Folarin Balogun told Sky Sports: “It’s a good feeling. It’s a moment I’ve waited on for a little while, so it’s nice to score on my first start and I look forward to more opportunities.

“It was good to go 3-0 up, but we know the game is never wrapped up. If we don’t take it the right way, we always leave an opportunity for the opponent so we tried to finish the job as well as we could and we’re glad we’ve got the three points.

“Even though we look to keep clean sheets, if we concede, we don’t let our heads drop. We go again and try to show a similar reaction that we did.”

England U21’s Euro 2023 qualifying campaign

September 7: England 2-0 Kosovo

October 7: Slovenia 2-2 England

October 11: Andorra 0-1 England

November 11: England 3-1 Czech Republic

March 25, 2022: England vs Andorra

March 29: Albania vs England

June 3: Czech Republic vs England

June 7: England vs Albania

June 10: Kosovo vs England

June 14: England vs Slovenia

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