International Football - England through to European U21 finals

Tue, 12 Oct 14:31:00 2010

England sealed their passage to the U21 European Championships after a hard-fought goalless draw in Romania gave them a 2-1 aggregate play-off win.

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Stuart Pearce’s side were comfortable for most of the game but occasionally rode their luck, with Gabriel Torje’s corner at the end of injury time flashing across goal but beyond the far post.

With only eight sides present in the U21 finals, all 10 group winners and the four best runners-up are forced to fight a play-off to select the seven teams that join hosts Denmark.

Pearce's visitors had won the first leg 2-1 four days previously, but Ryan Bertrand’s own-goal meant a 1-0 win would have put their opponents through on away goals.

England goalkeeper Frank Fielding looked uncomfortable while dealing with backpasses or clearances from outside the area, while he almost had a Robert Green moment from Eric Bicfalvi's long shot and also dropped a late corner that his team-mates managed to clear.

But the Blackburn reserve did well with a free-kick from Torje and two efforts from the impressive Sabrin Sburlea as Romania - regarded as one of the better sides at U21 level after proving the best side in qualifying - showed greater intent going forward.

It was not all about the home side though, as England's counter-attacking style saw Daniel Sturridge fire weakly at Silviu Lung when he should have scored, with the Romania keeper denying the Chelsea striker a further time following a flashing drive from a tight angle.

Tom Cleverley and Danny Rose also had half-chances as England tested Romania's defence with their superior pace.

And - as befits a Pearce team - the visiting defence was exceptionally well-drilled, with Michael Mancienne, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Bertrand all putting in composed performances as England's midfield struggled to control possession in the absence of Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell.

The result broke Romania's 100 per cent home record in qualifying, while extending England's five-year run without an away defeat in European U21 Championship qualifiers.

The finals take place in Denmark next summer, with England - beaten finalists two years ago in Sweden - now one of the favourites, as holders Germany failed to qualify after finishing third in their group behind Iceland and the Czech Republic.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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