Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 side are another huge step closer to qualifying for UEFA Euro 2013 in Israel after a professional performance and a sound victory over Azerbaijan at Baku’s Dalga Stadium. The match was played this afternoon and goals from Tottenham Hotspur’s Steven Caulker – who also found the net in the team’s previous outing, a defeat against Belgium – and Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.
The visit to Azerbaijan was the Under-21s’ penultimate group game and the win extends their lead at the top of their qualifying group to five points. The qualifying structure dictates that the first-placed team in each of the ten groups, plus the four best second-placed teams, go to a two-legged playoff process.
England will win their group if Norway fail to beat Belgium this evening, and will get a chance to make sure against Norway on Monday, when they play at Chesterfield in what is now the Proact Stadium.
Two players made their debuts in Baku. Blackpool’s Tom Ince played from the start to earn his first Under-21 cap after Pearce recognised his excellent start to the Championship season. Crewe Alexandra product Ben Marshall, now plying his trade on the wing for Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City after a serious of loan spells while on the books of Stoke City, came on to replace Wilfried Zaha and picked up his first cap as a result.
Caulker headed home Shelvey’s free kick to give England the lead in the first half, and the pair swapped roles for England’s second late on. Caulker’s pass connected with substitute Connor Wickham, who found the Liverpool man to set up the second goal and put England firmly in the driving seat for an automatic spot in the playoffs.
Ben Amos, Martin Kelly, Danny Rose, Jason Lowe, Steven Caulker, Craig Dawson, Wilfried Zaha (Ben Marshall), Jordan Henderson, Marvin Sordell (Connor Wickham), Jonjo Shelvey, Tom Ince (Nathan Delfouneso).
Final Score: Azerbaijan 0-2 England
England Goals: Caulker (28), Shelvey (83)
Azerbaijan Goals: N/A