England scored a stoppage time winner in Serbia as Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s frustrated their hosts to secure a 2-0 aggregate win and, in turn, their place at UEFA Euro 2013. Tonight’s match was the second leg of the qualification playoffs and England’s performance, while being characteristically edgy and unassured, was enough to limit Serbia to mostly speculative efforts.
After Craig Dawson’s spot kick had given England the advantage by virtue of a 1-0 first leg victory, the task in Serbia was a simple one: win or draw for a place at UEFA Euro 2013.
The away team came closest to scoring in the first half, the chance falling to Marvin Sordell. Picking up the ball to the left of Branimir Aleksic, Sordell cut inside and then reversed a crisp shot that struck the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
England looked more likely to score than concede in the early exchanges, and Pearce will have known that an England goal would ruled out extra time and given Serbia an enormous challenge to score the three goals required. Towards the middle of the first half, Aleksandar Janković’s team began to find some gaps and gave Jack Butland his first meaningful touches in the England goal.
Nikola Ninkovic in particular came close, just before Dawson missed an opportunity to punish some uncertain goalkeeping.
But Serbia lacked the quality to generate a genuine clear-cut opportunity, and England were able to usher in the end of a goalless first half without too much fuss.
Serbia began the second half with a renewed sense of purpose and England did well to soak up some sustained pressure in the early minutes, its intensity exacerbated by a whistle-happy referee. Ninkovic again had Butland scrambling in the 53rd minute, and the young England goalkeeper was equal to his effort.
With half an hour remaining, the match had become a tale of Serbian adventure. The home side were probing and England began to struggle with them, not helped by the fact that three of England’s back four were booked before the 55th minute.
Milos Kosanovic, one of Serbia’s partnership at centre back, fancied his chances from 35 yards with 20 minutes remaining, but his beautifully struck effort would have required either perfect direction or a significant deflection to test Butland, and it had neither.
As the final whistle approached, England were frustratingly unable to take the sting out of the game and Serbia continued to threaten Butland’s goal. Their pressure came to nought and England made them pay. With the Serbian goalkeeper up for a stoppage time free kick, England broke and Tom Ince kept his composure to find substitute Connor Wickham, who simply walked the ball into the empty net.
Danny Rose picked up a second yellow card for kicking the ball into the crowd after the final whistle and made a gesture on his way off that suggested he had been subjected to monkey chants. The England players were showered with all sorts by the fans as they celebrated the goal, and a mass brawl took place on the field that involved players, substitutes and officials.
UEFA need to take a long look at the evidence after these sickening scenes. Serbia’s players and staff should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. If Rose’s gesture was justified, their fans should be too.
Jack Butland, Adam Smith, Danny Rose, Jason Lowe, Steven Caulker, Craig Dawson, Wilfried Zaha (Raheem Sterling), Jordan Henderson, Marvin Sordell (Tom Lees), Tom Ince, Nathan Delfouneso (Connor Wickham).
Final Score: Serbia 0-1 England (0-2 on aggregate)
England Goals: Wickham (94)
Serbia Goals: N/A
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