Despite the slow and sluggish start to this tournament, England finished the group stages with fast and frenetic football. Aidy Boothroyd’s hard work fully came to fruition tonight with England’s dangerous pace and deadly counter-attacks.
It is the first time they have progressed to the semi-final stages in eight years, following on from the successes of the U20’s who have recently won the World Cup.
England eased past Poland – who seemed exhausted after playing three matches in quick succession – in style. England’s quick, incisive football was too much to handle for the Poles who never put them in danger once tonight.
Alfie Mawson and Calum Chambers were major threats to Poland on set pieces, and rocks at the back. Mawson who received a booking will not miss the semi-final after it was first thought he would.
Ward-Prowse had his best game of the tournament and orchestrated many of England’s attacks. Every time he set up to put in a cross or a free-kick, Poland’s nerves jangled. His partnership with Chalobah has grown over the group stages and tonight they were a formidable force. Chalobah, who had to go off early due to an injury, was excellent in being a shield to the England back four and helping his team start attacks.
Gray, the small nippy winger, started up front but held his own and stretched the Poland defence who had a torrid time trying to track his runs. One minute he was down the left, and the next down the right. He was a menace in the attack and his hard-work was rewarded when a 60-yard goal kick from Pickford came to Chilwell who galloped down the left wing and played the ball into Gray who was on the edge of the area. Gray released his curled shot which flew into the right corner of the box after it took a heavy deflection.
Gray’s dominance continued after he eased past Jaroszynski and put in a low driven cross that was destined for a goal had it made contact with the England attackers in the box.
Poland had lots of the ball in some periods of the game, but they had no invention or pace to put England on the back foot. But the control was soon snatched from them. England earned a corner after positive play from Swift and Redmond. Ward-Prowse whipped in the corner which found Chalobah who went unnoticed and backed off behind the crowd of players and headed towards goal, but Wrabel got a strong hand to put it out for another corner. The second delivery was a carbon copy of the first, but this time it was Mawson who forced Wrabel into another magnificent diving save.
Ward-Prowse’s inch perfect deliveries did not stop there. A curled in free kick was begging to be put in the back of the net after it just missed Swift’s leg which, if he made contact, would have been 2-0. Again it was Ward-Prowse who delivered to Swift who was unmarked at the far post but his volleyed shot was just wide.
There was one shaky moment when Poland tried desperately to find an equaliser, but this was created out of England’s sloppy passing. Pickford, who was not concentrating, played it straight to the Polish attacker, a suicidal mistake, but his shot was haplessly wide. A better team would have scored that, or at least got the shot on target.
Just when Poland were making their mark on the game and throwing more men forward, England pounced. A big interception from Chambers set Demarai Gray on his way, who sprinted into the penalty area and laid the ball off to Murphy who placed the ball into the empty net.
It was an assured and professional performance by England and thanks to Tammy Abraham’s strength in the Polish area, they were gifted a penalty with Bednarek sent off. Baker took the penalty and shot low to the bottom left corner, Wrabel got a hand to it, but it wasn’t enough. 3-0 England. Game. Set. Match.
England enter the semi-finals in mesmerising form, can they go all the way and match the U20’s World Cup win?
England XI: Pickford 6, Holgate 8, Mawson 8, Chambers 8, Chilwell 9, Swift 7, Chalobah 8, Ward-Prowse 9, Redmond 6, Baker 6, Gray 9
Subs used: Hughes 6, Murphy 7, Abraham 6
Poland XI: Wrabel 7, Kedziora 5, Bednarek 6, Jach 6, Jaroszynski 6, Frankowski 7, Linetty 6, Murawski 6, Moneta 6, Kownacki 6, Piatek 5
Subs used: Lipski 5, Niezgoda 6,
Man of the Match – Gray