Leroy Lita and Matt Derbyshire were on target in each half as England beat Serbia 2-0 to secure a place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals.
Their progress as Group B winners already confirmed, Serbia made nine changes to the side that started Wednesday's 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic, and England quickly capitalised on their lack of understanding in Nijmegen. Lita broke the deadlock inside six minutes from close range and after sustaining some second-half pressure, substitute Derbyshire sealed victory with a crisp 77th-minute strike though some of the gloss was taken off by a late Tom Huddlestone dismissal. The Tottenham Hotspur FC midfielder will now miss the semi-final with the Netherlands in Heerenveen on Wednesday, when Serbia face Belgium in Arnhem.
The start of the match had been heralded by the sight of a blimp floating over the Goffert Stadion, and in the early stages England further underlined their ambitions of a first crown at this level in 23 years are not hot air. They were ahead within six minutes when James Milner swung in a free-kick from 25 metres to the back post where Steven Taylor was on hand to head it across goal to Lita who swooped in to force the ball in. It was the worst of starts for Serbia's debutant goalkeeper Aleksandar Kesić, and he almost conceded another soon after when Nigel Reo-Coker glanced another right-sided free-kick just over the crossbar.
It was all England but they soon eased off, perhaps conscious of how they had wilted after half-time at the Gelredome on Thursday, unable to maintain the high tempo that had brought them a two-goal lead against Italy. The caution allowed Serbia full-backs Nemanja Rnić and Nikola Petković to push forward, and the latter had Miroslav Djukić's team's first meaningful chance midway through the half when his arcing free-kick brought a fairly comfortable save from Scott Carson. The England No1 was making a national record 28th appearance for the Under-21s but if he aspired to impress the attendant senior manager Steve McClaren, his opportunity to do so was limited.
A Nikola Drinčić free-kick caused problems in the England penalty area before the ball was hacked clear, while Carson was forced to make a rare save eight minutes before the interval to keep out Predrag Pavlović's low, swerving effort at the near post. It was a rare chance for either side as Stuart Pearce's team were content to sit back and allow West Ham United FC team-mates Reo-Coker and Mark Noble to boss central midfield.
The one-goal lead at times looked precarious, and a slip from Milner allowed Djorde Ivelja in ten minutes after the restart and Carson spread himself to make the save. Impressive it was, but the England custodian's effort was eclipsed by that of Kesić in the other net as he reacted brilliantly to keep out an acrobatic Lita bicycle kick. Kieran Richardson should have done better with 15 minutes remaining, but failed to turn in a low centre from Derbyshire, who soon sealed a place in the last four. There was still time for Huddlestone to be sent off and Gojko Kačar to hit the post, but it was too little, too late.