‘England Under-19 squad has belief’

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Keith Downing is seeking to end England’s losing run in their last two European Under-19 Championship finals

England’s youngsters believe they can “compete with the best” as they prepare for the European Under-19 Championship final against Portugal on Saturday.

Under-19 coach Keith Downing says there has been a change in mindset following the success of the nation’s underage teams this summer.

His side are the fourth England youth team to reach a final in three months.

“In terms of our age group and the abilities across Europe, they are right up there,” Downing told BBC Sport.

Last month, England won the Under-20 World Cup by beating Venezuela 1-0.

They also won the 2017 Toulon Tournament in June, and reached the final of the European Under-17 tournament in May.

England were also semi-finalists at the European Under-21 Championship in Poland last month before losing on penalties to Germany.

“There is a general belief England are going in the right direction,” Downing said.

“Success of other youth teams has been a massive incentive – we watched the Under-20 World Cup final at a training camp in Spain.

“But success should not be one-offs. We have proved we can do it and I am sure everyone now who puts a shirt on at whatever age group believes they can compete with the best.

“It is evident some of these players are capable of playing at the top level at their age group in European football – it is now about getting the opportunity for them to take the next step.”

Chance to make history

England last won the final of the competition in 1993, when it was the European Under-18 Championship

Downing’s side beat Czech Republic 1-0 on Wednesday to reach Saturday’s final at the Gori Stadium in Georgia.

The last time England were in the final of the competition was in 1993, when it was the European Under-18 Championship.

Darren Caskey scored the winner as an England team featuring Robbie Fowler, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville beat Turkey 1-0 in the final in Nottingham.

Since then, England have lost two finals in the competition. In 2005, they were beaten 3-1 by France and in 2009 a team including Kyle Walker, Danny Drinkwater and Danny Welbeck lost 2-0 to Ukraine.

“From day one we said we could create something that no other team has at this level since 1993,” Downing said. “It is a massive incentive for these boys.

“The momentum has been building, we have a genuine belief we can go all the way. It will be a tough one but we are counting the days down to create history.

“We have come a long way, now we have one last push and a massive effort to achieve that.”

Downing believes the experience of reaching and winning finals at youth level will benefit the England senior team in the future.

“They play four games in nine days, they are away from home for two-and-a-half weeks, playing against top players across Europe and different styles of football, taking penalties and so on,” he said.

“Hopefully it will give them enough experiences for them to deal with it later when they play at a senior level – that is the whole purpose of the development structure.”

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