Paul Simpson has urged his England Under-20s to write their names into the history books after they became the first men’s team from these shores to reach a World Cup final since 1966.
England play Venezuela in Sunday’s final after they came from behind to beat Italy 3-1 in the last four. Dominic Solanke, who is due to sign for Liverpool, scored either side of Ademola Lookman’s simple strike to propel Simpson’s side into the final in South Korea, with all three of their goals coming in the final 25 minutes. It is 51 years since England had a team in a major global football final, when Sir Alf Ramsey’s side beat West Germany at the old Wembley. “It’s a dream to take a team to a World Cup final,” Simpson, the England Under-20s manager, said. “I was born in 1966 and that was the last time we did it. We’re delighted to be in it and I’ve said from the first day I am greedy and I want to go and win the final. I don’t just want to make the numbers up, We always thought we had a chance to go to the final. We’ve achieved that, but really we’ve achieved nothing yet because we have to go and win and put our name into the history books of English football.”
The spine of this England group has been neatly blossoming for some time. Freddie Woodman, Jonjoe Kenny, Lewis Cook, the captain, and Solanke helped England to the Under-17s European Championship title in Malta three years ago and last year they formed the nucleus of the team beaten by Italy in the semi-finals of the Under-19s European Championship.
England started brightly in Jeonju, earning an early corner after a surging Kenny run, but moments later they found themselves on the back foot and trailing. When Cook, the Bournemouth midfielder, was penalised for handball on the halfway line, Italy took England by surprise with a quick free-kick. Andrea Favilli lost his marker, Fikayo Tomori, and the Ascoli forward unselfishly picked out his strike partner Riccardo Orsolini, who fired his curling first-time effort beyond Woodman in the England goal.
Italy, though, failed to build upon their promising start and retreated deeper and deeper, happy to soak up England pressure. Yet there was only so long they could suffocate England’s attacking talents. Solanke twice went close to levelling before half-time, heading narrowly wide before forcing Andrea Zaccagno, the Italy goalkeeper, into a smart stop and Simpson’s side dominated large spells of the game but eventually they were rewarded for an excellent performance, with Kenny, the Everton full-back, and Liverpool’s forward Sheyi Ojo, a second-half substitute, particularly influential in giving England a cutting edge in the final third.
Ojo made an instant impact and struck a post with a fine, bending effort before his devious cross supplied Solanke, who reacted quickest in the box to finish coolly after 66 minutes. The 19-year‑old Ojo then sent in another cross from the right flank, which Everton’s Lookman, who calmly collected before smashing the ball low and beyond Zaccagno with 13 minutes left.
Italy were deflated but England continued to pour forward and added a third when Solanke struck ambitiously from 25 yards out. The forward, who will move to Anfield from Chelsea next month, saw promptly wheeled away after in celebration of capping England’s win after his powerful as effort slipped through the hands of Zaccagno, who failed to parry.
England’s best finish in this competition had been third in 1993, but now they have a chance to be crowned world champions in Suwon on Sunday against Venezuela, who had earlier prevailed on penalties against Uruguay in the other semi-final. Venezuela trailed to a 49th-minute penalty before Samuel Sosa equalised in added time, then won the shootout 4-3 after a goalless extra time.
It was a fine day for England’s youth sides. On Saturday the Young Lions will defend their Toulon Tournament title in France after beating Scotland 3-0 in the semi-finals, thanks to a Harvey Barnes double and an Elliot Embleton strike just hours after the Under-20s secured passage to the final.
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