Albania U21 0 – 3 England U21

Folarin Balogun’s double helped fire England Under-21s past Albania to keep their Euro 2023 fate in their own hands.

The Arsenal forward’s second-half brace, either side of a Curtis Jones strike, gave the Young Lions a comfortable 3-0 win in Elbasan.

They endured a frustrating first half but took Albania apart after the break to remain three points behind Group G leaders Czech Republic with two games in hand.

The under-21s travel to the Czech Republic next for a pivotal clash in June, before completing qualification against Albania, Kosovo and Slovenia that month.

The leaders’ earlier 3-0 win in Andorra moved them six points clear before the Young Lions kicked off on Tuesday.

Lee Carsley’s side initially made light of the extra pressure as they dominated but failed to find a breakthrough.

They lacked the early verve of Friday’s 4-1 win over Andorra and, outside the lively Noni Madueke, could not find the ruthlessness demanded by boss Carsley.

Sergio Kalaj sliced Tino Livramento’s cross over and Anthony Gordon’s speculative effort tested Simon Simoni but that was as close as the visitors got in a frustrating half.

ELBASAN, ALBANIA - MARCH 29:  during the UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifier match between Albania U21 and England U21 at Elbasan Arena on March 29, 2022 in Elbasan, Albania. (Photo by Chris Ricco - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
England U21s sit three points behind Group G leaders the Czech Republic with two games in hand.

Yet they took complete control in a devastating 16-minute spell after the break with Balogun striking first. The 20-year-old, on loan at Middlesbrough this season, set up a second-half stroll by giving England the lead 95 seconds following the re-start.

Madueke’s excellent pass split the Albania defence to find Balogun and his cute finish beat Simoni.

Four minutes later Jones dispossessed Kalaj and the Liverpool midfielder ran through unchallenged to score.

Balogun wrapped it up after 61 minutes, combining well with Morgan Gibbs-White to fire in his third goal in two games from 10 yards.

Gordon nearly added some late gloss, only to be denied by Simoni, while Joe Bursik ensured his clean sheet when he kept out Roy Syla’s added-time free-kick.

Carsley has Czech Rep in his sights

England U21 boss Lee Carsley: “I’m used to it now, every game we play is a must win. We won’t be approaching that any differently. Czech Republic was a tough game when we played them in Burnley (a 3-1 win in November), I just wish we could play them a bit sooner.

“We were always going to put ourselves into that position going into the final four games. We still have to make sure we do things properly. We are still chasing, I look at the league table, I’ll be sat in the house one day refreshing. It’s more important now they take the form they have shown back into their club football.”

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