Harrison Ashby and Pierre Ekwah make international returns

Two promising prospects from the Academy of Football both made their returns to international football on Thursday evening.

Harrison Ashby, who made his Scotland U21s breakthrough just short of a year ago, returned for Scot Gemmill’s young side and played the full 90 minutes of a UEFA U21 Championship qualifying defeat to Denmark at Tynecastle.

Shortly after making his West Ham United debut, the adventurous full-back had enjoyed both his full debut, and scored his first goal, for the U21 Tartan Army last October, but was soon after ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Ashby’s appearance again the Danes, therefore, marked his first just under a year, with the 19-year-old starting for the Scots in a keenly-fought contest.

And the teenager seemed determined to make up for lost time, pressing high and intercepting a loose Danish pass inside the opening five minutes before blazing his shot over the bar from the 18-yard line.

Denmark U21s took the lead after 13 minutes when Gustav Isaksen curled in a low shot which appeared to deceive Scotland ‘keeper Cieran Slicker.

And despite mounting waves of pressure in the second half, Scotland U21s were unable to find their equaliser, a 1-0 defeat seeing them sit third in Group I of qualifying after two games – five points behind both Belgium and Denmark, who occupy the automatic qualification and play-off spots respectively.

Fellow 19-year-old Pierre Ekwah, meanwhile, made his return to youth international duty in France U20s’ 1-1 friendly draw with Tunisia. 

The box-to-box midfielder had not appeared for his national youth team since an U16s fixture against Switzerland in May 2018, after at one staging captaining and scoring for that team on his debut in 2017.

But having won a recall by impressing U20s coach Bernard Diomède in his first few months at West Ham United, Ekwah was subsequently named in the starting eleven for Thursday’s friendly in Fos-sur-Mer.

Fellow midfielder Adil Aouchiche opened the scoring midway through the first half for France, but Tunisia – who finished fourth at last winter’s U20 Africa Cup of Nations – hit back within nine minutes through winger Farouk Mimouni.

Wearing the No22 shirt, Ekwah himself came close to breaking that deadlock in the second half, clipping the top of the crossbar with a curling free-kick from the edge of the box.

And the 19-year-old will hope to have done enough overall to impress Diomède and, potentially, retain his place in the starting eleven when the same two teams meet on Sunday afternoon at Stade d’Honneur in Mallemort.

With no organised UEFA or FIFA competitions in U20s football this season, Ekwah will hope to keep his spot in friendly squads moving forwards as he continues to progress with West Ham’s development squad, having signed for the Club from Chelsea in June.

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