Connor Wickham first captured the headlines in April 2009 when he made his senior debut for Ipswich Town FC in England's second-tier Championship just 11 days after his 16th birthday, a club record. But it is on the international stage that the striker shone on Thursday, scoring both of England's goals in their 2-1 UEFA European Under-17 Championship semi-final defeat of France in Vaduz.
Both strikes was similar, angled finishes from the left of the box, and gave England a two-goal half-time lead that proved enough to set up a Sunday decider with Spain. The 1.91m-tall Wickham scored six Ipswich goals in 2009/10 and five times in U17 qualifying but was yet to register in Liechtenstein, something now put right with aplomb.
"It's an amazing feeling, to score two goals as well," Wickham told UEFA.com. "To do it for your country is a great honour and I'm really happy. I've played in two games before and I hadn't scored.
I wanted to score, I was desperate to score and I've got the two goals I needed today. Confidence is high going into the final."
The opening goal was set up by Wickham's strike partner, Benik Afobe, who was relieved after England withstood a second-half France comeback. "We defended well and it started from the front with Connor Wickham," the Arsenal FC forward said. "I really like playing up front with him. We get on well on and off the pitch. He didn't score in the group stage so to score two in a semi-final is really good."
Wickham now has more than 30 senior club appearances to his name, unusual for an U17 player. "I've experienced what it is like to play in the Championship. You have to be much stronger and hopefully I've brought that to England as well and can help the boys with what I've experienced myself."
Afobe too has a string to his bow, one of three players in the England squad to have taken part in last year's U17 finals in Germany. "Even off the pitch, around the hotels, because of the experience from last year I know what to do," Afobe said. "Being one of the older lads, one of the most experienced players, I can tell the other players what to do. And with Connor going away with the first team, he's matured a bit earlier than other players, so when they look up to him they can see that's the way to act."
Only one hurdle remains for England to win the U17 title for the first time, but with a perfect ten victories in their campaign so far, they have reason for optimism. "
This team, on and off the pitch, are really close," Afobe said. "To win all the games in qualifying, that's going to give you confidence. But this team never gets too confident – so that's good."
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