Benik Afobe to replace injured Saido Berahino in England Under-21 squad
England Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate has called up Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Benik Afobe to the Young Lions squad for the UEFA European Under-21 Championships, after West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino was ruled out following an injury in training.
Baggies frontman Berahino was top scorer in qualifying for this summer’s tournament in the Czech Republic, hitting nine, and will be a big miss as England boasted a superb forward line including Burundi-born Berahino, Tottenham hitman Harry Kane and new Liverpool signing Danny Ings.
Speaking to the media on the loss of his lethal forward, Southgate said: “It’s a great personal disappointment for Saido…we’re personally disappointed for him because he’s been with us from the very first game, scored our first goal and has been a huge part of the reason why we’re here.
“It’s a great shame he won’t be able to finish the job,” added the former England international.
Arsenal academy product Afobe will be an intriguing replacement, however, having become one of the Championship’s surprise packages with Wolves this season, for whom he was a revelation, hitting 13 goals and five assists in 21 outings after joining in January.
That form has earned the flexible forward a chance to fire the Young Lions to glory in the Czech Republic, with Southgate stating: “I’ve kept in contact with him in case something like this happened. He’s always been super positive about being involved and he’s excited by it.”
The worry for travelling fans will be whether Berahino’s absence will impact England (5/1 chances to win the Under-21 Championship) as they take on joint second-favourites Portugal (also 5/1) in their opening Group B encounter.
With big-guns Italy and plucky underdogs Sweden also in a tricky Pool B, Southgate will have his work cut out. Kane and co may be able to replace speedster Berahino’s goals, but the Albion attacker, who notched 14 in the league this season, is excellent at stretching defences, and has long been an integral piece of England’s puzzle.
Afobe then, has big shoes to fill, though the Young Lions possess plenty of attacking threat, so the 22-year-old former Gunner should not face too much pressure.
Having only recently joined Wolves’ ranks, Afobe may not be on many top tier clubs’ radars, though Berahino, who was reportedly being tracked by several sides including Manchester United, Spurs and Newcastle United, has now missed the chance to put himself in the shop window.