England U21s V Portugal U21s
5 Sep 2008
England U21s 2 - 0 Portugal U21s
England rounded off an excellent group campaign with a well earned 2-0 victory over Portugal at Wembley, booking their place in the play offs for the UEFA European Under 21 Championship.
A James Milner penalty just before half time and a second half goal from Gabriel Agbonlahor ensure the three points were going to England.
Stuart Pearce's team have taken one step nearer to Sweden next summer, another impressive performance and another clean sheet added to their brilliant run this campaign and sees them top the table in style.
The players were greeted onto the Wembley pitch by a downpour, something the English players are no doubt very familiar with of late. And they have also been used to winning, with Portugal the only side to take any points off them in qualifying.
And while the rain continued, so did their fine unbeaten record, which, save for a penalty defeat to Holland last summer, stretches back nearly three years.
However, it was the visitors who got into their stride quicker than England and inside five minutes Adelino Freitas had a near post header desparately clawed away by Joe Hart. The Three Lions were keeping the ball well, but with just Gabriel Agbonlahor up front alone, he often found himself free in wide areas, but without support in the box.
The impressive James Milner did force a save from Rui Patricio, but although his drive from 20 yards was crisp, it was routine for the Sporting stopper. Meanwhile, it was Portugal who were having the most joy going forward.
Paolo Machado had a couple of tries, first a curler which deflected off Steven Taylor's shoulder, but not enough to evade Hart, then a 30 yard srike which beat the Manchester City 'keeper skidded off the greasy turf and past the post.
England began to up their tempo and impose themselves on the Portugese. Michael Mancinne came close from Tom Huddlestone's inswinging free kick from the left but his header downward lacked a firm connection and the ball flew into the side netting.
Agbonlahor's pace started to cause trouble and he did well to retain possession in the left hand corner, and lay on for Adam Johnson arriving in the area. But his low shot went wide.
Johnson then hd another effort, this time it was blocked and a Portugese managed to scramble away the loose ball for a corner.
But with two minutes remaining of the first half, a quick break from Englandreached the penalty area and Agbanlahor squared for Noble at the edga of the box. The West Ham man couldn't get his shot away and the ball went through to Machado. Fabrice Muamba went steaming in and nicked the ball from his toes on the penalty spot before being pulled down by the St Etienne midfielder. The Italian ref had no hesitation in signalling for a penalty.
James Milner, who had been sticking them away from the same spot in training the day before, tucked away into the bottom left corner, sending Patricio the wrong way.
From then on, England were in charge and a largely toothless Portugal rarely troubled Hart. Bolton's Ricardo Vaz Te came close just after the break, flicking on a floated ball forward from Miguel Veloso, but the ball just went wide of the post and was as close as they came all half.
But Englands pace was aking a lot of questions at the other end. Substitute Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson coming close, with Patricio saving from the Wigan man, and Johnson's effort rolled wide.
Then Agbanlahor was set free by Noble with a free run at Patricio. He shrugged off the last gasp challenges, and squeezed under the 'keeper to seal the win for England.
Fraizer Campbell, who had appeared here for Manchester United in The Community Shield before his loan to Spurs this week, replace the no doubt tired Agbonlahor with 15 minutes left. He was lively as he held up long balls knocked forward as England played on the counter attack.
On one occassion, he tried to take on the Portugese back line on his own, despite being outnumbered. Losing two markers he unleased a low left foot strike, but it hit the side of the net.
He almost nodded home a late third from Huddlestone's inch perfect cross. Patricio blocked the first attempt and was up quick to turn the second away. Then Noble looked certain to score with the last kick of the game, only to see his effort pushed away too.
It mattered to Noble, who would have loved to score at Wembley, but as far as the team was concerned it was job done. Top spot and a place in next month's play-offs confirmed.
1 Joe Hart, 2 Martin Cranie, 3 Andrew Taylor, 4 Fabrice Muamba (15 Lee Cattemole, 56), 5 Steven Taylor (c), 6 Michael Mancienne, 7 James Milner, 8 Tom Huddlestone, 9 Gabriel Agbonlahor (18 Frazier Campbell, 76), 10 Mark Noble, 11 Adam Johnson (16 Michael Kightly, 86)
Subs not used: 13 Tom Heaton, 12 Jamie O'Hara, 14 Richard Stearman, 17 Aaron Lennon
Coach: Stuart Pearce
12 Rui Patricio, 3 Nuno Andre Coelho, 5 Goncalo Brandao, 6 Paolo Machado (15 Stelvio Cruz), 7 Vierinha (18 Daniel Candeias), 8 Manuel Fernandes (c), 10 Miguel Veloso, 13 Vasco Fernandes, 14 Bruno Pereirinha, 16 Bruno Gama (9 Joao Moreira, 46), 17 Ricardo Vaz Te
Subs not used: 1 Ricardo Batista, 2 Hugo Lopes, 4 Daniel Carrico, 11 Helder Barbosa
Coach: Rui Cacador