Czech Republic U21 1-2 England U21: Goals from Arsenal's Emile Smith Rowe and Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey put Young Lions on the verge of Euro 2023 qualification
By Jack Gaughan,
Beat Albania in Chesterfield on Tuesday and England's Under 21s will have secured major tournament qualification with two games to spare after navigating their toughest test on Friday night. Not a bad campaign, all told.
Lee Carsley had been obsessing about this one, away in Czech Republic, for months and knew its magnitude.
The fact that their biggest qualifier in quite some time opened this four-match international window served to benefit the Young Lions, who were focused to see off their only challengers in Group G.
It looks like a safe passage through to next summer's European Championship. England have not missed one of those since 2006 and Carsley was determined to preserve that record during his first campaign since taking over from Aidy Boothroyd.
He is almost there now, England level on points with the Czechs but possessing two games in hand and a better head-to-head record. Only a cataclysmic collapse over the next few days will stop them from topping this group.
'The build-up to this game has been since Christmas,' Carsley said.
'I could almost be Czech with the amount of times I've watched them. We're constantly looking at the table and we're in a strong position.'
Friday was not vintage but they did more than enough, controlled when threatened on the break and methodical when progressing through midfield.
Curtis Jones, the Liverpool midfielder, set the tone with his harassing, while Folarin Balogun linked play expertly up front.
They led on 22 minutes with a strike worthy of Gareth Southgate's seniors by a man used to playing up there.
Emile Smith Rowe's half volley rasped into the top corner, timing his trot onto the bouncing ball expertly and silencing a lively crowd in Ceske Budejovice.
The opener owed much to Balogun's selflessness in possession, finding Jones, whose shot was well saved before Smith Rowe did the rest with class.
'The idea is to get as many through to the seniors as we can,' Carsley added.
'Emile's definitely put a good case forward. A quality finish and he has always had the right attitude with us.'
The contest looked to be over 52 seconds after the break. Morgan Gibbs-White scampered down the right, his attempts to force a second rebounding to Jacob Ramsey, who bundled in.
But England lulled and allowed the Czechs to gain ground. After a number of presentable chances, substitute Daniel Fila sumptuously curled into Bursik's far corner with three minutes left to set up a rousing finish. England held on.
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