This year has already been a vintage one for English youth football with their Under-17 side on the hunt for more silverware at the World Cup in India.
During an eye-opening summer, Under-20 sides won both the Toulon Tournament and the Under-20 World Cup, the latter the first piece of major silverware won at any level since 1966. The Under-19 side added a European Championship in July, with the Under-21 team reaching the semi-finals of their version of the competition before losing to eventual winners Germany – of course on penalties.
It was the Under-17 side who set the bar for those triumphs back in May, reaching the finals of their European Championship campaign in Croatia, losing on penalties in the final to Spain. But having firmly dusted themselves off, Steve Cooper's side have enjoyed a typically thrilling start to the 2017 World Cup campaign where they have already qualified for the knock-out stages of the competition at a canter.
The Young Lions opened their campaign with a dominant 4-0 victory over Chile, marked by two goals and a sumptuous assist from Jadon Sancho. The 17-year-old was also at the heart of England's 3-2 win over Mexico last Wednesday, scoring one and providing another in the 3-2 win which sealed their qualification from the group stages. The winger enjoyed a comparatively quiet evening in Saturday's 4-0 thrashing of Iraq – a game which drew in a crowd of 55,000 in Kolkata.
Sancho is perhaps the most high profile name in the current squad following his summer move from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund. The teenager chose to move on from the Etihad Stadium after he was left out of the club's pre-season tour and turned to Germany despite having offers to remain in England. He was immediately handed the number seven shirt at Dortmund, vacated by Ousmane Dembele following his £130m move to Barcelona. While he is still waiting for his senior debut for the club, he may not have long to wait. Another measure of Dortmund's faith in Sancho was their stipulation that he returns to his club after the group stage of the competition.
But for now, Sancho remains with the group ahead of Tuesday's clash with Japan amid suggestions the winger could now stay for the remainder of the competition.
Whether or not he remains there, England will remain a competition favourite for good reason even in his absence. 17-year-old Angel Gomes made headlines last May as he became Manchester United's youngest ever player since the great Duncan Edwards when he replaced Wayne Rooney on the final day of last season against Crystal Palace.
His World Cup campaign began on the bench after he failed to make the starting XI against Chile but was brought on during the second half, scoring a sumptuous free kick to score his side's fourth while also wearing the captain's armband.
Starting as captain against Iraq, the diminutive attacking midfielder put his side ahead after 11 minutes and with Sancho having returned to his club, could now take on the responsibility of being his country's creator-in-chief. The United youngster is already carrying plenty of expectation on his young shoulders.
Chelsea's dominance at youth level in club football is represented at Under-17 level with five players named in the squad for India this month. Among those is Callum Hudson-Odoi, the 16-year-old forward who has drawn some early comparisons with club teammate Eden Hazard who was also on the score sheet in that thumping win over Chile to score his side's first goal of the competition.
Liverpool's Rhian Brewster, formerly of the Chelsea academy, is another to have shone, showing remarkable maturity to recover from a potentially confidence-shattering miss early on against Mexico to net a 30-yard free kick.
England's haul of 11 goals in the group stage of the competition is only bettered by France, who put 14 past New Caledonia, Japan and Honduras to head into the next round as the competition's top goal scorers. A round of 16 tie against Japan awaits the Young Lions on Tuesday but as we have seen this year, England's youth sides have provided plenty of evidence suggesting they are still immune to the fear that so often throttles the senior team in international competition.
While Sancho may have returned to his club, England's ambition for more international silverware will continue to burn bright in his absence.
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