Eddie Nketiah became England Under-21s’ record scorer as the Young Lions booked their spot at Euro 2021.
The Arsenal striker scored his 14th goal in just 12 games to seal a 2-1 win over Turkey, having missed an earlier penalty. It was a nervy victory for England, though, and they needed Aaron Ramsdale to save Halil Dervisoglu’s spot-kick after the forward’s awful dive. Huseyin Turkmen’s own goal opened the scoring for England, who extended their unbeaten run in European qualifiers to 43 games despite Dervisoglu’s late consolation.
Aidy Boothroyd’s side top Group Three and rubber-stamped their place in Hungary and Slovenia next year with two matches to spare, and the manager was full of praise for his captain after Nketiah’s late winner pulled him clear of Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers at the top of the scoring charts.
“Eddie’s a huge talent, a genuinely nice person,” said Boothroyd. “He’s great off the pitch for us and on the pitch he takes no prisoners. He’s a real warrior. To surpass Alan is a huge achievement.”
The Young Lions dropped their first points of qualifying when they were held to a surprise draw in Andorra last week but it was a much-changed, and stronger side, who initially dominated Turkey at Molineux. Everton’s new £25m defender Ben Godfrey returned along with Callum Hudson-Odoi, James Justin and Jude Bellingham among eight changes. And it was Leicester’s Justin who carved the visitors apart for England’s opener after 17 minutes. His perfect pass dissected the Turkey defence to allow Ryan Sessegnon to break free. The Tottenham wideman, on loan at Hoffenheim, cut in from the left and his cross was deflected in by Turkmen.
Nketiah then thought he had his record goal after tapping in after Josh Dasilva hit the post but was rightly ruled offside. The hosts were comfortable, with Hudson-Odoi and Bellingham impressing, but Ramsdale was forced to into a smart save when he turned away Ahmet Canbaz’s drive. It was just the start of the goalkeeper’s night as he protected the Young Lions’ lead in the second half.
England have not been beaten in a European qualifier since losing 2-1 to Belgium nine years ago but Turkey gave them a scare. Ramsdale had to beat away Dervisoglu’s fierce effort two minutes into the second half before he thwarted him again from the spot after 53 minutes. Oliver Skipp’s sloppy backpass sold Ramsdale short and Dervisoglu reached the ball first. He toed the ball past the Sheffield United goalkeeper and took a couple of steps before embarrassingly going down. The referee, Willy Delajod, awarded the spot-kick, despite there being no contact, and Ramsdale saved Dervisoglu’s poor penalty low to his left.
Aside from Nketiah again being denied by an early offside flag before Turkey’s penalty England rarely threatened. Dervisoglu curled over and Nketiah had a golden chance for his 14th goal when Justin was felled by Serkan Asan in the box with seven minutes left. The striker’s penalty hit the post but he did not have to wait long for his record strike, making amends by clipping in with his left foot after being sent through by Sessegnon with two minutes remaining. Dervisoglu did make it 2-1 in injury time but England held on to reach the finals. But Boothroyd wants improvement.
“I thought after the first goal it was going to be a relatively easy night but it was anything but,” he said. “We managed to get ourselves through so we’re delighted and we can use the next two games as preparation. But I said to the players we have to be better than that if we want to progress further”