There is a growing confidence in the England camp, a calmness and belief that runs right through the locker room. “We’re confident we can beat any team at this tournament,” was the blustery assessment of one Adam Morgan, Liverpool born-and-raised, and a future prospect coming through the Anfield youth ranks. “We can’t see ourselves losing at the moment,” he continued, chatting to FIFA.com after scoring from the spot against Argentina in the shoot-out in Pachuca.
It was a special moment for the players, lining up against one of England’s traditional rivals on the international scene. “I can remember watching England-Argentina games through the World Cups when I was younger,” continued Morgan, seemingly oblivious to the pounding rain that made a real ruck of the contest on Thursday. “I remember Michael Owen’s great goal in 1998 and David Beckham’s penalty in 2002. It’s such a special feeling to be a part of this rivalry at a World Cup.”
It is a feeling shared by this talented English side. “What a feeling to beat Argentina,” enthused tall captain and central defender Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea, smiling through the rain. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” he added, referring to his decisive penalty kick that sent his men through to a quarter-final date with yet another huge rival on the world stage.
“They’re Germany and we’re England and the games between us are always special,” said Morgan with a shrug, looking ahead to the last-eight meeting in Morelia. He, Chalobah and co are too young to have seen live any of the classic meetings between the two sides. But from the contentious 1966 World Cup Final at the old Wembley through to Italia 90 and UEFA EURO 1996, the two European nations have been knocking heads and producing classics in the international arena. “We always seem to meet Germany in these kinds of tournaments” said coach John Peacock, who surely remembers back to the same quarter-finals stage in 2007 when the Germans knocked his England out by a lopsided 4-1 scoreline.
Germany have been a steamroller over in Queretaro. As they take aim at their first title in this junior category, the junior Nationalmannschaft have scored 15 goals, conceded just one and have generally made a mockery of the competition. Even so, England – who arrived with a low profile and started slowly with a labored win over Rwanda – are in fine fettle.
“We’re determined,” said Morgan, a feeling confirmed by Chalobah, who calls wearing the captain’s armband “one of the great honours of his life.” But the pair also believe the attacking firepower at their disposal is enough to trouble the mighty Germans. “Going forward, we‘ve got the likes of Raheem [Sterling] and Hallam [Hope] and we’re flying on the wings. As long as we put in a solid team performance we know that we will score goals.”
Stars in the making
In Sterling and Hope, of Liverpool and Everton respectively, coach Peacock has two true-blue England stars in the making. Sterling, a livewire winger who is already a YouTube sensation and the hope for a bright future at Anfield, terrorised the Argentine defence all game long, and scored his second goal of the tournament. Hope, though guilty of missing a few chances in England’s three games, has one goal and one assist to his name.
The attacking force in the England side is such that coach Peacock, who continues to tinker with his forward line, has seen six of his players get on the scoresheet in the space of four games. “We’ve got so many wingers and forwards who can hurt a team,” said Morgan, who himself scored against Canada. “We’re really coming together.”
Whether this English confidence is the real thing, or just the endearing folly of youth, will be known on 4 July at the Estadio Hidalgo, when the young Three Lions meet up with an age-old enemy. Captain Chalobah, calm and cool beyond his years, has the final word: “The Germans will be tough,” he said, eyes blazing. “But we’re a resilient bunch that sticks together, and if we play our game the way we have been, anything is possible.”