Danny Kerry hailed Great Britain’s “bright future” after his side came from a goal down to beat world No3 Belgium.
After falling behind to Florent van Aubel’s first half strike, two goals from Sam Ward, the second his 50th international goal, turned the game on its head and gave the home crowd the win they’d come to see.
The event held in honour of the 30th anniversary of Great Britain’s 1988 Olympic gold medal had a retro-carnival feel about it but despite the focus on the heroes of the past, it was three players making their second international appearances, Jack Waller, Zach Wallace and Rhys Smith who caught the eye.
The three new caps, all surprise inclusions in Danny Kerry’s first squad as Great Britain’s men’s coach all played their part with Wallace collecting the man of the match award.
“Today Zach Wallace deserved that man of the match. Some of his carries through midfield but also his defensive work were phenomenal.” said Kerry afterwards.
“Rhys [Smith] was perhaps not as happy today as yesterday. He was frightening yesterday. He tore Belgium apart and today they marked him out. Jack [Waller] is one of those players others vote for in players’ player awards. He covers distance and makes good tackles and does the simple things well. They’ve all got a bright future.”
On the face of it, putting inexperience in against a side like Belgium may have seemed a bold move, Kerry believes the personnel was never a risk. With one eye on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 the coach, who won gold with Great Britain’s women in Rio insisted blooding young players is a necessity at this stage in their development.
“I didn’t see it as a risk putting them in in terms of where we are in the programme. Obviously when you’re new to a programme and you ask the team to play in a new way you want to have some semblance of competition. So the risk was a new style of play with new players.”
“We might have been disjointed, that was the risk. If you don’t do well the players don’t buy into to what you’re trying to do. They did and for me in the scope of the programme if we don’t expose these players now, they won’t be ready for Tokyo.”
With Belgium fielding a strong line-up against Kerry’s new-look side there was an air of the unpredictable about the match and how it would develop, in the end; despite the coach’s customary desire for improvement he was understandably delighted with the outcome.
“The result was exceptional given the number of new players. We had three new caps but also a number of other young players against what I think is one of the leading teams in the world. I actually think we played a little bit better yesterday. We kept the ball better yesterday. Today we turned it over a bit more and that meant we had to defend for long periods but as a coach you can’t ask for more than sheer application and sticking together. I’m really delighted.”
Inevitably the question of World Cup ambitions reared its head with England due to travel to India for the tournament at the end of November. Kerry poured cold water on any gold-medal talk:
“My standard quote at this point is I’m not getting drawn into how we’re going to do at the World Cup or where we’re going to be. I want the boys to go there and feel good about the way we’re going to try and play and to enjoy it. In doing that it’ll free them up a little bit and I think if we achieve that it’ll put us in a good position going forward and if we do that it’ll put us in a good position at the tournament.”