David Wilson reports from City Calling Stadium
After a farcical delay in which match officials were transported to the wrong venue, City Calling Stadium in Longford played host to an entertaining 1-1 draw between England and France.
The French started well and dominated the opening ten minutes as their English counterparts seemed somewhat nervy as they failed to hold onto the ball.
The French attack focused down the left through the rapid Nathanael Mbuku, backed up by flying full-back Jean-Claude Ntenda.
The 1,500 or so who packed in to see two of the top European under-17 teams were intrigued to see Theo Zidane.
The son of Real Madrid head coach Zinedine only took 13 minutes to produce a sublime turn which left Jensen Weir in his shadow much to the delight of the locals.
17 minutes in, the first chance of note fell to England skipper Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who headed a Miguel Azeez delivery towards goal and Marvin Zinga produced a great point-blank save.
It only took 29 minutes for both left winger Mbuku and his direct opponent English right full-back Samson Robinson to go into the book in what was proving to be a titanic tussle between the two.
Mbuku was booked for a pull-back as the Manchester City defender Robinson tried to break forward, while Robinson went into the book for a poor tackle on Ntenda after only four minutes.
The opening goal came from the penalty spot in the 34th minute as Sam Greenwood converted low to the goalkeeper’s left, after Cole Palmer was pulled down in the box.
Noni Madueke played a low ball across the box from a wide free-kick just on the edge of the French box after being hauled down by Ntenda.
Weir missed an opportunity to strike it 14 yards from goal as he fluffed his shot, the ball fell to Palmer.
He was brought down by a French defender leaving Slovenian referee Rade Obrenovic with no option but to give the penalty.
England controlled the game well until half time, with PSV Eindhoven wide man Madueke looking especially dangerous.
The second half started with an English attack, playing against the breeze, as Morgan Rogers produced some lovely footwork down the English left and combined with Arsenal midfielder Miguel Azeez.
Rogers set up Weir for a shot from distance, however the Wigan Athletic playmaker couldn’t keep his strike down and blazed over the bar.
France grew quickly into the ascendancy after that opening England chance. The French captain and central midfield player Lucien Agoume took control of the game, his neat footwork and and range of passing bringing the game to England.
France number nine Georginio Rutter, who is coming through at top French academy Stade Rennais, looked sharp and bright but his teammates couldn’t find him with a quality pass to give him a clear goalscoring opportunity.
The pressure on the English defence was beginning to tell and the back four began to get pinned in. England looked to break quickly through Rogers and Madueke.
In the 68th minute RB Leipzig full-back Matt Bondswell, who had replaced the cautioned Samson Robinson, broke through the French defence down the left.
His low, driven cross to the near post was met by the instep of Greenwood, but his effort only found the but of the French post and rebounded out to safety before the French defence could clear.
A second goal would have been the insurance goal for the Steven Cooper’s men.
Finally the French onslaught found a breakthrough in the 78th minute as substitute Adil Aouchiche turned in from close range.
A series of shots from Rutter and substitute Dilane Bakwa were blocked first by Malachi Fagan-Walcott and then turned on to the crossbar by goalkeeper Louie Moulden before Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Aouchiche managed to turn the ball home.
Now the French began to drive forward sensing a winner. Johann Lepenant and Isaac Lihadji came off the bench immediately after the equaliser and began to provide impetus going forward.
England were happy to hold out for a draw for the last ten minutes as they sat in and shut up shop.
Agoume went close as did full-back Brandon Soppy who was played in neatly down the right by Rutter, however he could only shoot over when perhaps is best option was to pull the ball back to a teammate.
Rutter and centre-half Chrislain Matsima somehow didn’t score after magnificent blocks from Walcott and a great save from Moulden once again in the 88th minute and England managed to hold out for the draw.
In a game where both sides tried to play open, exciting football together and one in which the local crowd got thoroughly involved in, it finished England 1-1 France.
Both sides will feel that in arguably the toughest group in the tournament, that they have an opportunity to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
Steven Cooper, England U17 manager, spoke after the game and was happy with his side’s defensive resilience.
Cooper said: “Your out of possession strategy is just as important as strong as [your attacking strategy],” and added that he was pleased with how his team dug in when they were under the cosh.
England now move on to play against the Netherlands in Tolka Park on Monday, whereas France play against Sweden in Tallaght also on Monday afternoon.
England: Louie Moulden; Malachi Walcott, Samson Robinson (Matt Bondswell 54), Taylor Harwood-Bellis (C), Haydon Roberts, Miguel Azeez, Jensen Weir, Noni Madueke (Joe Gelhardt 89), Cole Palmer (Lewis Bate 66) Morgan Rogers, Sam Greenwood
Subs not used: James Trafford (gk); Teden Mengi, Teddy Jenks, Benjamin Wright,
Booked: Samson Robinson (4), Malachi Walcott (45), Cole Palmer (63), Taylor Harwood-Bellis (90+ 4)
France: Marvin Zinga; Brandon Soppy (Timothee Pembele 90+4), Nianzou Kouassi, Jean-Claude Ntenda, Chrislain Matsima, Lucien Agoume (C), Enzo Milot (Johann Lepenant 79), Theo Zidane (Adil Aouchiche 59), Amadou Traore (Dilane Bakwa 59), Nathanael Mbuku (Isaac Lihadji 79), Georginio Rutter
Subs not used: Amjhad Nazih GK; Melih Altikulac, Etienne Youte Kinkoue, Kelian Nsona Wa Saka,
Booked: Nathanael Mbuku (29), Jean-Claude Ntenda (32), Nianzou Kouassi (68),
Referee: Rade Obrenovic (Slovenia)
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Lucien Agoume (France).