Noble shines with England

Mark Noble turned in a tireless performance to help England book their place in the European Under-21 Championship play-offs in October.

The West Ham United midfielder was a major influence in the 2-0 win against Portugal at a sodden Wembley Stadium on Friday night. Showing no sign of being overawed by the occasion, Noble dictated much of the home side's play. Wearing the No10 shirt, the 21-year-old showed some deft touches in and around the penalty area and had several opportunities to add to the scoring.

Although he has three goals from his first eleven U21 appearances, Noble will not mind one bit that he did not register in this latest contest against a Portuguese side full of promising talent. His best chance came deep in added time when he found himself through only to be denied by the visiting keeper. Instead the goals were struck by James Milner, a penalty just before half-time, and Gabriel Agbonlahor with a fast break and cool finish just after the hour. The win was the 25th unbeaten match at this level for England.

Most importantly, it confirmed top spot in the section and also dented Portugal's hopes of one of four places on offer to the best runners-up in the ten groups. In all 14 nations will compete in the play-offs with the seven winners of the two-legged ties on 11 and 15 October going forward to the 2009 Euro in Sweden next summer. The play-off draw will take place in Malmo on Friday week.

Over in Group 7, Iceland have no chance of reaching the U21 play-offs after a youthful side featuring the 17-year-old West Ham United defender went down 1-0 away to Austria. Iceland are bottom of their group and will finish their campaign at home against Slovakia on Tuesday 9 September.