After England's poor showing at the World Cup this year, it's hard to find a light amidst all the shadow--particularly if one reads a lot of English tabloids. And while it's tough to assign the blame for the Three Lions' failure on just one factor, most people can agree that most of the squad was too old, and many believe they were riding on past performance rather than their bright futures.
So rather than focus on the old and tired, English fans--particularly Aston Villa fans--who want to remain optimistic should take a look at the youngsters playing in the European Under-19 Championship. The Villa are one of the Premier League sides with a half-decent youth system, choosing to bring up players that come through their own academies rather than throwing tons of money around to buy talent elsewhere. Our youth team went to the FA Cup finals this season, where we lost to Chelsea (they just seem to love knocking us out of FA Cups) 3-2 on aggregate.
And now we've got two players going to the U-19 Championships. Nathan Baker is a central defender who's been part of our reserve squad, who've won the Premier Reserve League South the past three seasons. Baker spent most of the 2009-2010 season on loan at Lincoln City.
Nathan Delfouneso is a name that most Villa fans are more familiar with. Fonz spent much of 2009/2010 on the fringe of first team squad, impressive for a 19-year-old. This kid's got talent and we're already anticipating seeing him in an England kit for 2014. Our young striker started in a few FA Cup and Carling Cup ties, but truly gained the adoration of Villans when he came off the bench against Portsmouth in April to score the winning goal in the 82nd minute, keeping Villa's very slim hopes of a fourth place finish alive. Delfouneso also scored against Greece in his England Under-21 debut in March.
The U-19 European Championships begin on July 18, when England face Austria before facing Netherlands and France, who are all in Group A. Group B consists of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia. The top two finishers in each group go on to the semi-finals, which will be played on July 27th, with the final on July 30th. The winners automatically go to the U-20 Championships next year. Best of luck to Nathan Baker and Nathan Delfouneso in helping England win this cup--and here's hoping we see plenty of the Fonz in a nice long Europa League campaign.