World News

Eberechi Eze proved he should have been England Under-21's main man all along

Ross Jackson
Mar 31, 2021, 7:30 PM GMT+1
Eberechi Eze was superb in England's win over Croatia
Eberechi Eze was superb in England's win over Croatia | Marcio Machado/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

"The England senior men's job was called the impossible job. The England U21 team is the utterly impossible job."

Aidy Boothroyd

It's true - when you don't play your best players most jobs in football management seem utterly impossible, yet when you do play your best players, suddenly things aren't so difficult.

England Under-21 boss Aidy Boothroyd took his fair share of stick for the Young Lions' abject performances at the European Under-21 Championships prior to their final group game against Croatia on Thursday evening.

Eberechi Eze was a thorn in the Croatia backline's side all game
Eberechi Eze was a thorn in the Croatia backline's side all game | Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

His side had failed to even score - never mind win - before taking on Igor Biscan's side, leading him to produce one of the most ludicrous comments we've ever heard in football.

Let's not forget, this is a man who failed to pick up a single point at the 2019 edition of the Under-21 Euros, despite fielding talents like Phil Foden, James Maddison, Dean Henderson, Mason Mount, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tammy Abraham... hmmmm, yeah sounds really impossible, Aidy.

Anyway, enough Boothroyd bashing (for now). The former Watford boss finally saw sense ahead of England's final group game with Croatia and opted to hand Crystal Palace's Eberechi Eze his first start of the tournament, and boy did he produce.

The youngster was the liveliest player on the pitch throughout the contest, showing a willingness to drive at players and commit defenders, something the Young Lions had sorely lacked in their previous outings in the competition.

Aidy Boothroyd handed Eze his chance against Croatia
Aidy Boothroyd handed Eze his chance against Croatia | Sportida/MB Media/Getty Images

With the Croatia backline unable to cope with Eze's quick feet and seamless shift of balance, suddenly England looked a threat to the opposition, and they were denied a clear-cut penalty shortly after the half hour mark as the Palace forward was hauled down in the area by Marin Sverko.

Despite the referee overlooking the clear foul, Eze had long made his mark on the occasion by that point, stepping up to slot home the penalty won by Eddie Nketiah to hand England the lead.

The composure and the confidence shown as he strutted up to the ball was almost hard to believe, maintaining eye contact with Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Kotarski the whole time before just rolling the ball into the corner.

With the hopes of his teammates, his manager and even a nation on his shoulders as he stepped up to take the spot kick, the nerve shown by the 22-year-old to just slot home like he was playing football in the park with his mates was incredible.

As the game wore on, Eze's influence only continued to grow and he very nearly doubled his and England's tally for the evening with a beautifully whipped free kick almost catching Kotarski out at his left-hand post.

Despite the youngster's stellar display, it wasn't enough for the Young Lions to drag themselves through to an unlikely quarter-final place, with Domagoj Bradaric's 92nd minute wonder goal enough to secure Croatia's passage through to the knockout rounds at England's expense.

It was all a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted if we're honest. As though Boothroyd had suddenly looked at the Group D table and thought to himself 'sh*t I'd best play my best player for this last game'.

While Eze's display may have given England brief hope of progressing, ultimately it just highlighted the ineptitude of Boothroyd to let him sit on the bench for their first two outings in the competition.

Whether Boothroyd is in charge of the Under-21's next game remains to be seen, but regardless of who is in charge, Eze needs to be top dog.

facebooktwitterreddit