Never mind the Florida sun. our regular contributor Luke Harvey had some serious sporting spectacles – one with a Sunderland interest – to keep up with at either end of the day …
Everyone has their own thoughts about going on holiday.
Jetting off to a sunkissed part of the world to enjoy peace and relaxation and forget about any troubles at work. That would be one interpretation of a holiday. For me, once there, the trick was how to figure out how I could convince my family that watching Wimbledon for a fortnight while keeping up to date with the Fifa Under 17 World Cup should not be seen as antisocial.
As it turned out, it was relatively easy. Due to the time difference in Florida I could keep up with Wimbledon in the morning, though iI was often subjected to ESPN showing me whichever American they hoped wouldn’t lose that day, and I could watch the Mexico-based World Cup in the evening when the daytime pursuits were done. It all worked out rather well.
And I had an extra incentive to be interested in the Under 17 World Cup, and so should all of you: Jordan Pickford, of Washington, is on the books at Sunderland and the number one goalkeeper for England.
Now, it would be folly to suggest that because he has some youth caps for the nation, particularly at such a youthful level as Under 17, he is England’s future number one and an answer to all our questions regarding our own goalkeeping needs. He is, simply put, a 17-year-old kid in whom England’s manager John Peacock clearly has a lot of faith.
Germany deservedly walked out as the winners against England, a 3-2 score line and late come back from England not enough to gloss over the difference in class between in my eyes.
Ignore the goals against column for a moment though, even if it may be the only readily available information for rating Jordan. Truth told, he wasn’t the best England player on the pitch for any of their matches, but it would be madly unfair to consider a last eight defeat disastrous, or to seize on a couple of mistakes and dismiss “just another typical England goalkeeper’.
The Under 17 tournament is very much a development competition; consistently winning is not all that counts at this level. In fact only two European teams have won since the inaugural competition in 1985: France in 2001 and Switzerland in 2009.
The tournament is in no way a crystal ball showing who will be the best players in the world when they hit 22, but playing international football at 17 in Mexico can only be good character-building for these young players, and no one’s character will have been tested as much as Jordan’s.
Jordan experienced all sorts of emotional highs and lows in his four matches. Nearly everything a goalkeeper could conceivably imagine happen to him in the competition did happen, and not once did he let his head drop or his play be affected.
Against Canada in the second group game, following on from a clean sheet against Rwanda, Jordan was unbelievably lobbed by his opposite number, Quillan Roberts. England had immediately relinquished a lead once, and these were absurd circumstances for it to happen again, the bounce taking Jordan by completely surprise to send the ball looping over him and into the net late in the match.
He responded by helping his side to a convincing 2-0 win over fellow group stage qualifiers Uruguay, who nonetheless made the semi-finals of the competition and will face Brazil.
When England England faced Argentina in the Round of 16, the story seems to write itself even at Under 17 level. Early in the match Jordan couldn’t get the measure of the ball on the slippery surface and spilled a free kick into the path of the oncoming Maximiliano Padilla. Raheem Sterling spared him his blushes with an equaliser, but he was nearly caught ou
t in similar fashion once again – this time recovering to smother the ball.
But if Jordan was feeling like a “zero” at this stage – though there was no reason for him to do so in the overall picture – he was soon elevated to “hero” status with two solid saves in the resultant penalty shoot out to help England to the next round.
And if this gave the story a fictional element – England, winning a penalty shoot-out! – coming up against Germany in the quarter finals put it back on track. Like their senior counterparts in the 2010 World Cup, it was all a little too easy for the Germans, and England weren’t helped by the willingness of their defence to contribute to the German victory.
Jordan Cousins, Nathanial Chalobah and Sam Magri in defence were all guilty of stray passes and lapses of concentration that gifted the opposition clear cut chances and forcing Jordan into action when he should have been nothing more than a spectator.
It’s easy for us to defend the Sunderland lad, but in this instance it seems entirely justified, but I’m not letting him off the hook entirely. He was unlucky with Germany’s first goal, but perhaps should have been more assured when rushing out to stop the through ball.
On the German team it was a pleasure to watch Samid Yesil – scorer of two goals against England, the captain Emre Can and Levent Aycicek perform. It once again brings up the old argument of whether England need to invest in the German youth method, which appears to be convincing Turkish players to be German.
Again though, it should be mentioned that this is no way how football will turn out in 10 years. After all, previous teams to make the final four at this level include Saudia Arabia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Hardly powerhouses of the football world, although the 1991 semi-final appearance of Qatar shows a degree of history and passion that may have helped them win the right to stage the 2022 World Cup (not that I doubt Fifa’s actual reasoning for awarding them the competition).
It should be said that very few Under 17 players go on to be regular representatives of the national side at a senior level. But involvement in Mexico offered them a chance for them to development in a competitive environment – and fans of youth football the opportunity to see some of the best young players around.