England have been getting goals here in Mexico from many sources. Last time out, in their 2-0 win over miserly Uruguay, central defender Nathan Chalobah got himself on the scoresheet, the sixth young Lion to do so. “I always head up and run in late on corner-kicks,” said the Chelsea reserve, tipped for a big future by many at Stamford Bridge. “The ball was served in pretty high and it was lucky for me because my run was a little late.”
Max Clayton, making his first start in coach John Peacock’s ever-shuffling attacking line, also grabbed a goal against the Uruguayans, with England becoming the first team to score on the defensive-minded Celeste in the space of three games. The team’s reward for such heroics is a date with another South American outfit, Argentina, who struggled to even reach the round of 16.
“I didn’t really think I would have a chance to score against Uruguay,” said Clayton, who plays his club football alongside teammate Nick Powell with famed youth pipeline Crewe Alexandra. “We need to keep up the form against Argentina. It should be a great game because of all the history that we have with them.”
The list of meaningful and memorable games between England and Argentina at senior World Cups is a long one. Argentine captain Antonio Rattin was sent off on English soil in 1966 leading to then England manager Alf Ramsey calling the South Americans “animals.” Then there was the eventful quarter-final right here in Mexico 20 years later when Diego Maradona punched into the net before showing his true class with a mazy dribble that has since been hailed as the ‘goal of the century.’ Then, of course, there was the 1998 contest in St. Etienne where David Beckham was sent for an early bath and Argentina won out on penalties.
“There is always something special when England and Argentina play and we will be desperate to win this match,” added Clayton. In addition to the wealth of meetings between the two countries at senior level, they also squared off twice at U-20 World Cups in 1981 and 1997, with Juan Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Jaime Carragher and Michael Owen all on the pitch. The round of 16 contest here at Mexico 2011 in Torreon, however, will be the first meeting between the old rivals at a U-17 world finals.
“If we manage to beat Argentina I think really there is no limit to where this England team can go,” Clayton continued. Having scored six times in their three Group C games, all of England’s goals have come from different players. Everton’s Hallam Hope, Liverpool’s darting winger Raheem Sterling, Clayton, Adam Morgan, Chalobah and West Ham’s Blair Turgott were all on target.
Peacock has used the most strikers of any coach at these finals, six in all, as he tinkered with his side early and often in a section they were always expected to pass through. “We won our group without losing a game and that is really great,” the coach said, before turning his attentions to Argentina. “We have four days rest, which we will need, and then we’ll set about preparing for this new challenge.”
There's one stat that may worry the gaffer: despite scoring a credible six goals, it took his side 51 chances and 17 on goal to do so. But as they say, football is not a game of statistics. It is, however, a game of fierce rivalries and big emotions. This will all be underlined on Thursday 30 June when another chapter of the England-Argentina rivalry is written, fittingly in Pachuca, the very place where British miners introduced football to Mexico over 100 years ago.