Youth pushing England, Italy to brink of Euro 2020 qualification
PARIS, OCT 8: England and Italy are closing in on qualification for Euro 2020 as the two countries' talented young squads search for the single win that would guarantee them a place at a landmark tournament with matches to spare.
The pair are two of five teams that can qualify for next summer's tournament in the coming round of matches, held over October 10-12. Spain and Group I rivals Belgium and Russia can also lock up an early place.
With two teams qualifying from each of the 10 groups, England need just a win at the Czech Republic on Friday to ensure qualification from the five-team Group A after a perfect run of four victories from four that has put Gareth Southgate's side four points clear of third-placed Kosovo, who have played a game more.
Southgate has built on taking England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, with his side crashing home 19 goals in a dominant qualification campaign.
The England manager has been helped by the blossoming, at 24, of Raheem Sterling who after scoring four goals in his first 47 England appearances has scored six in his last six.
Southgate has also capitalised on the emergence of young players such as West Ham's Declan Rice, 20, and 19-year-old Jadon Sancho, who bagged his first England goals in the 5-3 win over Kosovo last time and is a mainstay for Borussia Dortmund.
Young Chelsea trio Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham are the latest players to be rewarded by Southgate for their impressive club displays, with Mount and the Premier League's joint-leading scorer Abraham among the revelations of the early-season fixtures.
Roberto Mancini meanwhile has continued his rebuilding of Italy while collecting six wins from six in Group J. His youthful Azzurri have a chance of booking their ticket against Greece on Saturday.
They need to beat the Greeks at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and hope that third-placed Armenia fail to beat rock-bottom Liechtenstein, who have conceded 19 goals so far.
Regardless, Italy are almost guaranteed a place in the Euros as they are nine points ahead of Armenia with four matches remaining. If they fail this time, they will have a second chance later in this international break, when they visit Liechtenstein on October 15 on matchday eight.
Former Inter Milan and Manchester City boss Mancini has taken the broom to the side that failed to qualify for the World Cup and thrown his trust behind young talent like Inter Milan midfielder Nicolo Barella, highly-rated Roma attacker Nicolo Zaniolo and AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Zaniolo, 20, is back in contention after being put on an enforced exile with Moise Kean for bad behaviour during the Under-21 Euros on home turf. Inter's other young midfield dynamo Stefano Sensi is out after suffering a thigh injury in the 2-1 Serie A defeat by Juventus on Sunday.
Also in contention to qualify on matchday seven are Spain, who have rattled off six straight wins in a tough Group F despite the turmoil that followed the death of former coach Luis Enrique's daughter.
Robert Moreno has taken over and his group leaders are eight points ahead of Romania in third. Spain need a win at Norway and the Faroe Islands to nick a result over the Romanians to book their place.
Belgium and Russia meanwhile both want a draw between Kazakhstan and Cyprus early on Thursday before they search for wins over San Marino and Scotland that would seal their qualification.
The Netherlands, another team packed with young talent, will try to make their game in hand count in Group C on Thursday when they host second-placed Northern Ireland looking to join their opponents and leaders Germany on 12 points.
Ronald Koeman's side, which includes Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong and their former Ajax teammate Donny van de Beek, have bounced back in style from failing to qualify for the last World Cup and Euros and would go top of the group with a victory in Rotterdam. -AFP